How to Prepare Art and Culture for UPSC

How to prepare Art and Culture?


Two very important thing to remember before reading anything for the Civil services exam are:

  1. First, You have to know your syllabus and be familiar with the past papers before starting to read anything. Syllabus and the past papers show you the road, give you directions. If not for directions, it is very is to get lost in the jungle of information that the exam will put you in. More about this in our syllabus blog.
  1. Second, ALWAYS think LONG TERM. Your aim should be to read for the exam and not just for the sake of reading. Read and make concise notes such that you can revise it in as little time as possible and are able to recall in the exam.


First, let’s have a look where Art and Culture is mentioned in the syllabus.

  1. Preliminary examination: There is no mention of Art and culture specifically, but questions are asked. You should always have a integrated approach for mains and prelims preparation so that you are able to answer no matter where the question is asked from.
  2. Mains examination: Art and Culture is mentioned in the General Studies Paper 1 syllabus as shown below

Again, following the general pattern in mains, questions about art and culture cannot be answered just by having the basic knowledge and facts. Though you need to have the basic knowledge and facts, you also need to analyse it with respect to the present as well as the past.You will get a clearer picture once you go through the past papers.

  • Past Trends: Though past trends are a good way to know the importance given to different topics of the syllabus, in an exam as unpredictable as UPSC CSE, deciding whether to study or not to study any particular topic based on the past trends is not advisable. Past trends help us to decide how much time should be devoted to the particular parts of the syllabus. Past trends should always be taken with a pinch of salt, and seen just as facts than conventions. 
  1. Preliminary Examination:
Year 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018
Number of Questions 10 2 3 5 6

      2. Mains Examination:

year 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018
Number of questions 4(40 marks) 2(25 marks) 2(25 marks) 1(10 marks) 2(30 marks)


  • Decoding the syllabus: If you are a beginner, here I have mentioned in brief from The Centre for Cultural Resources and Training (CCRT) website, what the syllabus covers. Along with Indian Literature, it covers

Visual Arts

  1. Indian Architecture: Indus Civilization, Buddhist Architecture, Temple Architecture, Indo-Islamic Architecture, Modern Architecture.
  2. Indian Sculpture: Indus Civilization, Buddhist Sculpture, Gupta Sculpture, Medieval School of Sculpture,Modern Indian Sculpture
  3. Indian Painting: Wall Painting, Miniature Painting, Modern Painting. 


Performing Arts

  1. Dances of India(Classical Dances): Bharatnatyam Dance, Kathakali Dance, Kathak Dance, Manipuri Dance, Odissi Dance, Kuchipudi Dance, Sattriya Dance, Mohiniyattam Dance.
  2. Music of India: Hindustani Classical Music, Carnatic Classical Music, Regional Music, Musical Instruments.
  3. Theatre Forms of India:Theatre Forms.
  4. Puppet Forms of India: Puppet Forms.


Things to remember before starting:

  1. Syllabus defined but has vast boundaries: The art and culture syllabus, though clearly defined by words,- given India’s diversity- has such vast boundaries in its definition that thinking of covering it in its entirety is a fool’s errand. So, covering limited resources and concise note making is very important for revision.
  2. Unsolvable questions: In Prelims, there will always be questions which will be very difficult and are impossible to prepare for. They are best left unsolved. Some Art and culture questions come literally ‘out of nowhere’ and know that most of your fellow aspirants are not going to solve those too. 


Example of very difficult and impossible to prepare for questions:


  • This question was asked in prelims 2018, has no mention whatsoever in ANY regular art and culture sources or any current affairs magazine. It can be traced to a local Hyderabad news in the Times of India. No matter how extensively you prepare, It is just not possible to answer such questions unless you just ‘happen’ to read it of personally know about it. 
  • This again from prelims 2018, has no mention in any regular sources. It can be traced to the book ‘The Wonder That Was India’ By A. L. Basham. Nobody really recommends this book. Vision Ias had  recommended some chapters from this book, but its not worth it for one question and not something many would have covered.

This question from Prelims 2018 though has some relation to one news article, the options just cannot be eliminated.

2017 was the 250th birth year of Tyagaraja and do Tyagaraja was in news, Annamacharya can be traced to the Vice President’s PIB speeches related to M.S. Subbulakshmi in 2017. In themselves these relations are very vague and difficult to cover and the 3rd option is just impossible to eliminate because it is very difficult to remember their respective timelines and hence difficult to establish if they were contemporaries or not.


  1. Better utilize your time for other subjects: After a point and a few sources, any more time devoted to art and culture is just not worth it. Instead of getting emotional about mastering art and culture, the extra time can be devoted for other topics of the syllabus which have a higher chance of having answerable questions.


  • Are current affairs of this portion important?

Current affairs are always important in UPSC CSE because many questions can directly be related to Current Affairs. Even static topics like history and geography can be related to the current affairs. Some example on how questions of culture can be related on current affairs are given below. 

  1. This question from prelims 2018 van be directly traced back to The Hindu here and here.

  1. This question from prelims 2018 can be directly traced back to The Hindu here. Though it cannot be said to be a news , and cannot be completely said to be traced here, but it was in the paper!

  • Art and Culture for Mains Examination:

Lets first have a look at some of the questions asked from last few years:

  1. Safeguarding the Indian art heritage is the need of the moment. Discuss.[2018] 

To answer this question, you not only need to know about the India art heritage, but you also need to know why there is the need to safeguard it in the first place. What factors are responsible for it to be needing safeguarding, institutions responsible for it like the archaeological Survey of India and the current difficulties faced by it. For you to know all this, you have to be reading current affairs.


  1. The Bhakti Movement received a remarkable re-orientation with the advent of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. Discuss. [2018]`
  2. Krishnadevaraya, the King of Vijayanagar, was not only an accomplished scholar himself but was also a great patron of learning and literature. [2016]
  3. Mesolithic rock cut architecture of India not only reflects the cultural life of the times but also a fine aesthetic sense comparable to modern painting. Critically evaluate this comment. [2015]


As you can see from these questions, in recent years, UPSC has started asking more analytical question. To answer such questions, one has to know not just the facts about the mentioned art form, but also the historical background i.e. the social, political, religious and economic factors behind the said art’s creation. Always remember to look for all such aspects while reading than just going through the facts.

Art and culture may seem insipid to many, so instead of just reading about it, it is better to make good use of the Internet and watch videos and images about the art and architecture. This will help you to memorize- and later recollect- everything better. 



1.Indian Art and Culture by Nitin Singhania

  1. An Introduction to Indian Art Part-I 11th NCERT
  2. The Centre for Cultural Resources and Training (CCRT) website
  3. NIOS can be referred selectively if not satisfied with the 1st three, specially literature and philosophy.
  • Only chapters 2,7 and 9.
  • Need to be very selective and should be read only if having ample time.


As with all sources for UPSC CSE, you need to make concise notes from these sources too. Remember that, you have to revise before prelims, mains and all your mocks. You need to memorize a lot for Art and Culture and for that you have to revise as many times as possible and as quickly as possible. Make your notes keeping this in mind. 

Happy Reading.


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