Indian culture is a diverse topic. It encompasses cultural aspect from ancient, medieval to modern times. Coming to questions from this section, aspirants finds them difficult to solve. There are many reasons for this.

Quite understandably culture is quite factual and not an easy dish to prepare. Moreover, it has unending aspects to be covered that is beyond anyone’s capability unless born with luck factor. Joke’s apart :-).  Again, the best way to prepare is from analysis of past year papers and following a simple strategy. What can be a simple strategy if the subject is tough?

Indian culture comprises of Art, Architecture and Literature. Almost every single book available in the market will explain in length and breadth about the syllabus and domains. So, can you memorize everything given? To tell you frankly even if you memorize everything, you cannot solve the questions as some of them are analytical and probably one in a million will be gifted with such a beautiful memory (actually none, unless he/she possess such supernatural power like our superstar chitti’-Rajinikanth in the movie Robot  🙂

Hence, the very purpose of this article here is to create an easy mind map for your preparation.

We will go chronologically and sometimes by division like Art, Architecture and Literature.


Sources to prepare

  • Class 11th NCERT (Old)- Textbook on fine arts-Specific book on Art and Culture
  • New NCERT-Class 12th-Themes in Indian History
  • Tamil Nadu edition -11th and 12th
  • CCRT Website
  • NIOS material
  • The Hindu


Now, hell of lot of resources, Isn’t it?

All you have to do is be selective in reading the books (Remember Baba’s mantra- not to read a book from cover to cover). Following the strategy given here will make sure that you have prepared culture without much difficulty. Also, a standard source to prepare culture is Current Affairs.

Since this section, overlaps with Ancient, Medieval and Modern History, you will see certain topics repeated here.

From Mauryan Empire the developments in the above field became prominent.

If we start dividing and covering each and every ruler’s domains based on them, then we will end up writing a book that we definitely don’t want. Let us make it simple.


ART Forms: Art forms are divided into- Visual Art and Performing Art


Visual Art


Visual Art can be broadly divided into Paintings, Architecture, Sculpture and Pottery.



Indus Valley Civilization: Architecture


  • Focus on town planning and various sites associated with architecture like Lothal, Kalibangan and Harappa etc. – their significance and location


Sculptures– male and female figurine Dancing girl, Bearded Male and terracotta figurine etc; Pottery


Buddhist Architecture


  • Chaitya and Viharas, Sanchi Stupa, Ashokan Pillars, Location of stupa and pillars, Why were they built?
  • Sculpture: Lion Capital, Bull capital, yaksha and Yakshi, various Buddha’s sculpture- Its significance like seated Buddha and Standing Buddha, significance of different postures


Example (2012 Prelims Questions Paper):


Lord Buddha’s image is sometimes shown with the hand gesture called ‘Bhumisparsha Mudra’. It symbolizes

(a) Buddha’s calling of the Earth to watch over Mara and to prevent Mara from disturbing his meditation

(b) Buddha’s calling of the Earth to witness his purity and chastity despite the temptations of Mara

(c) Buddha’s reminder to his followers that they all arise from the Earth and finally dissolve into the Earth, and thus this life is transitory

(d) Both the statements (a) and (b) are correct in this context

Solution (b)


Example (2013 Prelims Questions Paper):



Some Buddhist rock-cut caves are called Chaityas, while the others are called Viharas. What is the difference between the two?

(a) Vihara is a place of worship, while Chaitya is the dwelling place of the monks

(b)Chaitya is a place of worship, while Vihara is the dwelling place of the monks

(c) Chaitya is the stupa at the far end of the cave, while Vihara is the hall axial to it

(d) There is no material difference between the two

Solution (b)




  • Famous Temples constructed during the reign of different Empires
  • Their location
  • Different styles of Temples like Dravida, Nagara, Vesara, Panchayatan
  • Rock cut temples, specific features of temples- Garbgriha, Shikhara etc.
  • Gupta Era– Golden age of Indian Architecture- Caves- Ajanata and Ellora- Religious aspects of these caves
  • Temple Architecture in South India– Nayaka, Vesara, Dravidian and Vijayanagara etc
  • Sculpture– Chola- Nataraja etc.
  • Other school of arts– Pala, Rashtrakuta and Hosala etc. Their religious themes
  • Indo-Islamic Architecture– Decoration, Dome etc, Difference between Indo-Islamic and ancient architecture


 Example (2014 Prelims Questions Paper):


With reference to the cultural history of India, the term ‘Panchayatan’ refers to

1.      an assembly of village elders

2.      a religious sect’

3.      a style of temple construction

4.      an administrative functionary

Solution: C


Post Mauryan Art


  • School of Art- Gandhara, Mathura, Gupta, Amravati
  • Difference and similarities among them
  • Significant features associated with each School




  • Prehistoric Paintings like Bhimbetka Rock paintings
  • Wall Paintings
  • Mural Paintings (Badami)
  • Cave Paintings at Ajanta and Ellora
  • Themes associated with these paintings
  • Special features/styles associated with different
  • Their locations


Miniature Painting


  • Pala School of Painting
  • Western Indian Paintings ( Rajasthan, Gujrat and Malwa)
  • Mughal School of Painting
  • Deccan School of Painting (Tanjore, Ahemadnagar, Bijapur etc)
  • Pahari School of Paintings (Basholi, Kangra and Guler etc)
  • Special features/styles associated with different paintings
  • Similarities and Differences
  • Their Location


Modern Painting


  • Bengal School of Painting
  • Santiniketan school
  • Specific personalities like Raja Ravi Verma, Rabindranath Tagore’s , Amrita Shergil and their works etc.


Few Examples from Previous Year Question Paper’s


 Consider the following historical places: (2013)

1.      Ajanta Caves

2.      Lepakshi Temple

3.      Sanchi Stupa

Which of the above places is / are also known for mural paintings?

(a) 1 only

(b) 1 and 2 only

(c) 1, 2 and 3

(d) None

Solution (b)


 Ibadat Khana at Fatehpur Sikri was  (2014)

1.      the mosque for the use of Royal Family

2.      Akbar’s  private chamber prayer

3.      the hall in which Akbar held discussions with scholars of various religions.

4.      the room in which the nobles belonging to different religions gathered to discuss religious affairs.

Solution 3


Note: In 2014, UPSC asked more questions based on locations and terms. You should be prepared to handle such questions. Do not read extensively, just focus on few aspects that we mentioned above like Locations, Features, Similarities and dissimilarities etc. Nobody can remember everything. Try to make your learning simple. Later we will put some questions that we frame from newspapers to make you understand that culture can also be prepared smartly from day to day current events.

Note: At the end of this Section, a link is provided wherin you can access all the Previous year UPSC questions that had appeared under ‘Culture’ Section since 2011.

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