UPSC Mains: How to Study Indian Art and Culture?

How to study Art and Culture for UPSC?

UPSC Civil Services exam has a very vast syllabus and one of the important parts of it is Arts and Culture. In the General Studies Paper I, it is included in the UPSC syllabus as ‘Indian Heritage and Culture’. Under this topic, you have to learn about the ‘salient features of Literature, Art Forms, and Architecture from ancient to modern times’. This topic seems like a broad one thus it becomes difficult to guess what to study and what not to study. This article classifies the topic of Indian art and culture into different headings and makes it easier for you to learn and answer art and culture questions in UPSC mains.

Dealing with Indian Art and culture UPSC

Indian Art can be classified under three headings:-

  1. Performing Arts
  2. Visual Arts
  3. Literary Arts

Performing Arts

Performing arts include the various dance forms, music, Indian theatre and puppetry.

Dance forms are further divided into:

Classical Dances & Regional (folk) Dances

Classical dance forms of India:-

  1. Bharathanatyam (Tamil Nadu)
  2. Mohiniyattam (Kerala)
  3. Kathakali (Kerala)
  4. Kathak (North and West of India)
  5. Odissi (Odisha)
  6. Manipuri (Manipur)
  7. Kuchipudi (Andhra Pradesh)
  8. Sattriya (Assam)

Regional dance forms of India: There are many folk dance forms in India from different parts. You must learn about the major ones like Chhau, Bihu dance, Garba, Dhamal dance, Dumhal, Chakyar Koothu, Lavani, Bhangra, etc.

Coming to the next topic, i.e., the music of India; this can be divided into three styles:-

  1. Carnatic music
  2. Hindustani music
  3. Regional music (folk)

Carnatic and Hindustani are two classical music styles in India. There are some differences and some similarities between these two styles.

Difference between Hindustani and Carnatic music

You must also read about musical instruments in India. There are four basic kinds of instruments. They are:-

  1. Tata Vadya (Chordophones) – stringed instruments like Sitar, Veena, Santoor, etc.
  2. Sushira Vadya (Aerophones) – wind instruments like flute, Shehnai, Nadaswaram, etc.
  3. Avanaddha Vadya (Membranophones) – percussion instruments like Mridangam, Tabla, Dholak, etc.
  4. Ghana Vadya (Idiophones) – solid instruments that don’t require tuning (mostly used as accompaniments for tribal and folk music and dance).

Theatre and puppetry are also important aspects of performing arts in India.

Theatre forms in India – traditional and modern

Puppetry – string puppets, rod puppets, shadow puppets and glove puppets.

Visual Arts

Visual arts can be divided into three:-

Architecture, sculpture and painting.

Indian architecture can be studied under the following:

  • Pre-historic architecture
  • Indus valley civilization
  • Temple architecture
  • Buddhist architecture
  • Indo-Islamic architecture
  • Modern architecture

Indian sculpture can be read under the following:

  • Pre-historic
  • Indus valley civilization
  • Buddhist sculpture
  • Gupta sculpture
  • Medieval sculpture
  • Modern India sculpture

Indian painting can be studied under the following:

  • Miniature paintings
  • Wall paintings of India
  • Modern Indian painting

Literary Arts

Literary arts can be studied under:

  • Vedic literature
  • Puranas
  • Classical Sanskrit literature
  • Early Dravidian literature
  • Pali and Prakrit literature
  • Medieval literature
  • Trends in medieval literature
  • Women poets in Bhakti literature
  • Modern Indian literature
  • Emergence of nationalism
  • Literature of nationalism, reformism and revivalism
  • Indian romanticism
  • Emergence of Gandhi
  • Progressive literature
  • Literary scene after independence
  • Dalit literature
  • Use of mythology
  • Contemporary literature

Under Indian culture, you should study religion and Indian philosophy. Apart from that, you should also include while reading history for IAS exam, the ‘culture’ of a particular time period, like the position of women, royal patronages for the arts, etc.

Visit BYJU’S Website for strategy and articles on free IAS prep and all the latest on UPSC IAS exam.

Also See:

NCERT notes for the Art and Culture syllabus UPSC
Important topics and subtopics to be covered in Art and Culture


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  1. Hi,
    What about Festivals, Cinema, Circus, etc. I have purchased Nitin Singhania’s Ji book on Indian Art and Culture and it seems a bulky book. Should I learn all the topics?

    Appearing for the first time in CSE 2021.