Mrunal GS1 Culture: Analysis of Mains-2013 Questions

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The syllabus is new, pattern is new, BackbreakingTM techniques are new: hence any analysis is hollow and shallow, without solving the questions first.
So, Let’s start with the…
Culture Questions in GSM-I-2013

Following questions were asked: marks words
  1. Though not very useful from the point of view of a connected political history of South India, the Sangam literature portrays the social and economic conditions of its time with remarkable vividness. Comment.
10 200
  1. Chola architecture represents a high watermark in the evolution of temple architecture.
5 100
  1. Discuss the Tandava dance as recorded in the early Indian inscriptions.
5 100
20 out of 250 marsk= only 8% of the paper. 20 400

The Answer Sources

To solve above questions, I’ve used following books:

Book type Did the book have sufficient content for the given question? SANGAM CHOLA TANDAV
SchoolTextbook NCERTs hardly hardly didn’t find
NIOS Culture hardly few lines one line
Tamilnadu Class 11 yes yes didn’t find
ICSE Class 9 yes yes didn’t find.
India’s Ancient Past RS Sharma. aka the fabled old NCERT. yes yes didn’t find.
CompetitiveExam Spectrum’s Culture book hardly yes just 1 line
TMH General Studies Manual yes yes didn’t find.
Krishna Reddy yes yes didn’t find.
Readymade material from Coaching/Correspondence/postal class. didn’t use didn’t use didn’t use
Academic AL Basham, A Wonder that was India yes yes Few lines.
  • Yes= means at least 60% of the answer content was
    available. “Yes” doesn’t mean 100% content for the said question is
    given verbatim in the said book.
  • Didn’t find= either the answer was not given there OR I didn’t read carefully.
  • Didn’t use=because same content given in standard reference books for free/ cheap price.

Now time for the answers:

Q1. Sangam Literature

Q. Though not very useful from the point of view of a connected political history of South India, the Sangam literature portrays the social and economic conditions of its time with remarkable vividness. Comment. (10m | 200words)

Approach: Have to comment on three issues:

  1. Sangam literature doesn’t help much to dig POLITICAL history of South India.
  2. Sangam literature helps understanding the SOCIAL condition of South India.
  3. Sangam literature helps understanding ECONOMIC condition of South India.
BOOKS NOT MUCH USEFUL USEFUL
  1. A few rudimentary points under NCERT Class 6 and class 12.
  2. NIOS culture course, Ch6 talks about Sangam but hardly anything on ‘socio-economic’ details.
  3. Spectrum’s culture book talks about Sangam literature but hardly anything on society or economy.
  1. 2/3rd of the answer (Society + Economy) can be directly
    finished from ICSE Class 9 History textbook alone. But doesn’t talk
    about first part (Why Sangam literature doesn’t help understanding
    pol.history of S.India?)
  2. ^same as above with TMH General Studies Manual.
  3. Old NCERT Class 11 = India’s Ancient past RS Sharma (under Oxford Publication). Matter Covered under chapter 3 and 22.
  4. Tamilnadu State Board History Textbook Class 11, Chapter 8
  5. AL Basham, A wonder that was India: under chapter 9.
  6. Indian History, Krishna Reddy Chapter on Post Mauryan India.

Part#1: doesn’t help in Political history because:

  1. Three Sangams held between 100-250AD
    1. First sangam: attended by Gods and Sages. Work didn’t survive.
    2. Second: only Tolkappiyam (grammar book) survives = doesn’t help much.
    3. Third (last) Sangam: has eight anthologies (Ettutogai). Here too, not all work has survived.  + has following limitations:
  2. Since poets were patronized by ruling elites- exaggerations about
    the victories, territorial influence. Even a cattle raid on village
    would be narrated as war.
  3. More focus Hero-worship rather than how they shaped power balance and foreign relation with other states.
  4. some of the names, titles, dynasties, territories, wars and like mentioned these poems are imaginary.
  5. No archeological evidences to corroborate certain settlements mentioned in Sangam Poems. e.g. Kaveripattanam.
  6. Many of these poems are erotic / romantic in nature.
  7. Much of the work still untranslated. Thorough study yet to be done.

Part#2: Social conditions in Sangam Age

From Sangam literature, we get following information about South Indian society:

VALUES
  • South Indian society celebrated both love (Akam poems) and wars (Puram poems)
  • Heroic death, sacrifice, stones and memorials greatly cherished.
VARNAS
  • Sangam poets mention four Varnas:
    1. Arashar (King/nobility)
    2. Brahmanas (priests)
    3. Viashiyar (traders)
    4. Velala (Farmer)- they even held civil and military post.
  • Brahmanas (priests) performed yagna before wars
  • Priests, poets and bards (Panar): respected by society and patronized by ruling elite.
Women
  • allowed to choose their partners
  • Love marriage common practice.
  • Widow life miserable.
  • Sati practice was also prevalent upper caste. (hard to believe but yes, it is given in TN state text book.)
social Interaction
  • Society divided on clan based groups called “Kuti”
  • Inter-dining and social interaction among Kuti groups was permitted.
  • Meaning a stringent 4-fold stratification and Jati system of North Indian type, was not prevalent during that stage of Tamil Society, but appeared at later period.
  • Society essentially in tribal-pastoral in character: Tribal customs,
    totem worship prevalent. people wore amulets to ward off evil, bring
    rain and luck.
DEATH Varied from burial in urns to cremation rituals.

Part#3: Economic conditions in Sangam Age

From Sangam literature, we get following information about South Indian Economy:

OVERALL Economy
  1. There were five economic zones (tinai), each supporting a different economic activity. (hills, drylands, jungle, plains and coast)
  2. While the kings received income from trade, tributes and plunder, but a regular system of taxation was not seen.
  3. All three kingdoms (Chola, Chera, Pandya) wanted to subjugate lesser
    chieftains, hence war, raid and plunder were normal feature of the
    society- leading to destruction of resources and manpower. We can infer
    this from Sangam poems describing the sorrow of villagers, whose cattle
    and farm produced were plundered by enemy chieftains.
Occupation
  1. Agri, hunting, gathering, fishing and pastoralism = main activities
  2. cattle raids are frequently mentioned in the poems= pastoral economy.
  3. Tools were mainly used for hunting and raids. But Crafting
    specialization was rudimentary, only served as secondary source of
    income.
  4. Traders were prosperous- dealt with salt, corn, textile and gold.
FOREIGN TRADE
  1. Both inland and external trade was practiced.
  2. Major export: silk, cotton, ivory, pepper and pearls-  All highly valued by the foreigner. Sangam Poems narrate about how Yavans came in their own vessels, purchased pepper with gold, and supplied wine and women to Indian rulers to get trading permissions.
  3.  (Despite having no formal taxation system) Chola, Chera
    and Pandiyan kingdoms became wealthy mainly by exporting these
    commodities to Roman Empire and South East Asian kingdoms. (and they didn’t have high current account deficit because Sangam poems donot mention crude oil import.)
WOMEN in Economy
  1. agriculture: Women actively involved in planting, weeding, husking and winnowing of paddy
  2. Spinning, weaving, basket making, garland making and flower selling were among other occupations pursed by women.

—but this is more than 500 words. Have to compress:—

Keypoints- Sangam

Q. Though not very useful from the point of view of a connected
political history of South India, the Sangam literature portrays the
social and economic conditions of its time with remarkable vividness.
Comment. (10m | 200words)

Key points:

  1. Sagam Litt. fails to give political history because:
    1. While three Sangams were held, only the last gathering provides material relevant to political history.
    2. With Hero worship as prime focus, Poets often exaggerated victories and territories of the kings.
    3. Some of the names, places, dynasties, territories are imaginary and not corroborated by archeological evidences.
    4. Part of the literature is erotic and romantic in nature.
  2. Sagam Litt. Gives social picture:
    1. Society cherished love, wars and heroes.
    2. Bards, priests and poets received royal patronage.
    3. Poets mention four varnas: Nobility, priests, traders and farmers.
    4. Society divided into clans (Kuti), however dining and social interactions permitted among them.
    5. Unlike North India, the South Indian society did not have stringent 4-fold varna stratification and Jati system.
    6. Women were allowed to choose partners, but life of widows was miserable.
  3. Sagam Litt. Gives economy picture:
    1. Five economic zones (tinai) viz. hills, drylands, jungle, plains and coast, each supporting a different economic activity.
    2. Agriculture, hunting, gathering, fishing and pastoralism were
      primary occupations. Crafting, weaving served as secondary source of
      income.
    3. Women formed a significant part of labour force, particularly in paddy cultivation, craft and weaving.
    4. Kings received income from trade, tributes and plunder. Regular
      system of taxation was absent. However, export of pepper, ivory, silk,
      cotton and booty from raids made the kings wealthy.

This is ~200 words.

Q2. Chola Temples

Q. Chola architecture represents a high watermark in the evolution of temple architecture. Discuss. (5 marks | 100 words)

100 words can be easily gathered from any of the following books, but
the real problem= can you recall decent points worth 100 words in the
actual exam hall?

  1. NIOS Culture, Ch. 13 (~50 words.)
  2. Class 9 ICSE History textbook, page 74
  3. Tamilnadu Class 11 History textbook, chapter 13.
  4. Indian History, Krishna Reddy
  5. Under TMH General studies manual, section History of India=>art and architecture=>Cholas. Sufficient content
  6. Spectrum’s culture book (page 145 in 2004’s edition)
  7. AL Basham, Wonder that was India, Page 359-360

Anyway, let’s check the less boring points.

Cholas followed the architecture style of Pallavas and constructed numerous temples throughout their territory.  Nagaesh-wvara, Brihadesh-wvara and Airavatesh-wara temples in Tanjore-Thanjavur region represent the zenith of Chola architectural style.

Notable features are following:

Chola Temple Features

  1. Material
Started using stones instead of bricks.
  1. Walls & Passages
have neatly detailed frescoes, sculptures and paintings- including birds, dancing figures, pictorial stories from Puranas
  1. Portraits
Some of the Chola temples contain beautiful life-sized portraits of
kings and queens. e.g. Rajaraja I and his queen lok-mahadevi, Rajendra I
and his queen Chol-mahadevi.
  1. Garbhagriha
chief deity room
  1. Vimana
the 5-7 storeys above chief deity room. In Brihadeshwahra temple- 13 successive storeys.
  1. Shikhara
above the Vimana (Storeys). Rajarajeshwara temple has Shikhara stone
weighing almost 90 tonnes. Since they didn’t have cranes to lift it,
architects built a 4 km long inclined path to drag the stone over the
top.
  1. .Vs Pallavas
  • Although Chola continued the art tradition of Pallavas, but abandoned the lion motifs from temple walls.
  • Chola temple pillars were constructed with greater refinement than Pallavas.
  1. Nataraja
  • During Chola period, metal art showed remarkable development and was used for further decoration of temples.
  • e.g Nataraja or dancing shiva at Chiadambaram temple- described as the ‘cultural epitome’ of the Chola period.
  1. Mandap
Audience hall, for various ceremonies. Elaborate carvings and pillars.
  1. Gopuram
Temple gateways, which enclosed the entire temple structure with high walls.
  1. Trend-Setters
  • Brihadeshwara temple by Rajaraja –I at Tanjore. It was the tallest of all Indian temple at that period.
  • Other kingdoms in South India- and even in Sri Lanka, adopted the architectural style of Chola temples.

~256 words. Have to compress

Keypoints- Chola Temples

Q. Chola architecture represents a high watermark in the evolution of temple architecture. Discuss. (5 marks | 100 words)

Keypoints:

The Cholas followed and refined Pallava architecture, with following notable features:

  1. Use of stones instead of bricks.
  2. Walls decorated with sculptures and paintings of deities, kings and queen instead of lion motifs from Pallava.
  3. Temples are enclosed by decorative walls and entrance (Gopuram);
  4. have an audience hall (Mandap); a deity room (Garbhgriha); a pyramid like storey above the deity room (Vimana)
  5. Ultimately the beautiful Shikara stone at the top – each with
    elaborate and meticulous carvings- Weighing in tonnes yet placed without
    help of cranes.

During their reign, Cholas studded the entire Tamil landscape with
such temples including Nagaeshwvara, Brihadeshwvara, Airavateshwara and
Chidambaram -their style even followed by other kingdoms in South India
and Sri Lanka.

~110 words.

Q3. Tandav Dance

Q. Discuss the Tandava dance as recorded in the early Indian inscriptions. (5 marks |100 words)

  • Spectrum’s culture book barely gives two lines.
  • NIOS culture course ch. 12 mentions that “traditional
    Indian culture the function of dance was to give symbolic expression to
    religious ideas. The figure of Lord Shiva as Nataraja represents the
    creation and destruction of the cosmic cycle.
  • From a small paragraph in AL Basham page 310, it becomes obvious that ^above NIOS sentence is talking about Tandava dance.

Anyways let’s combine:

  1. In South India, religious dancing was part of the earliest known
    tradition –and Shiva himself is considered to have invented no less than
    108 different dances.
  2. Some of his dances are calm and gentle, while others fierce,
    orgiastic, heroic, bold, vigorous and terrible- such as the Tandava
    dance of Nataraja.
  3. Tandava and Lasya, are two basic aspects of Classical Indian Dance, associated with Shiva and Parvati respectively.
  4. In Tandava dance form, the angry Shiva is surrounded by his drunken
    attendants (ganas), he beats out a wild rhythm which destroys the world
    at the end of the cosmic cycle.
  5. Thus Tandava dance is meant to give symbolic expression to religious idea of Shiva being the Destroyer among the trinity of Bramha, Vishnu and Mahesh.

~123 words.

Although original question is “Discuss Tandava as recorded in the early Indian inscriptions”= so even above answer is incomplete. Because it doesn’t talk about any inscriptions. Finally “Wikipedia” (=the most unreliable source for MCQs), gives the seemingly right points.

Ancient Hindu scriptures narrate various occasions when Shiva or other gods have performed the Tandava viz.

  1. When Sati jumped in sacrificial fire in Daksha’s Yajna to give up
    her life, Shiva performed the Rudra Tandava to express his grief and
    anger.
  2. The Bhagavata Purana talks of Krishna dancing his Tandava on the head of the serpent Kaliya.
  3. According to Jain text: Indra performed Tandava in honour of Rishabha’s birth (Jain tirthankar).
  4. Shivapradosha stotra mentions: when Shiva performs
    the Sandhya Tandava, the other gods like Brahma, Vishnu, Sarasvati,
    Lakshmi and Indra play musical instruments and sing Shiva’s praises.
  5. In some temple sculptures, Ganesha is depicted in Eight armed form, dancing the Tandava.

~115 words.

Anyways, let’s combine and compress

Keypoints: Tandav Dance

Q. Discuss the Tandava dance as recorded in the early Indian inscriptions. (5 marks |100 words)

  1. Tandava and Lasya, are two basic aspects of Classical Indian Dance.
    Shiva himself is considered to have invented atleast 108 different
    dances- including the fiercely aggressive Tandava- where he destroys the
    world at the end of the cosmic cycle.
  2. Thus Tandava is meant to give symbolic expression to religious idea of Shiva being the Destroyer among the trinity of Gods.
  3. Ancient Hindu scriptures narrate many incidents where Tandava was performed including:
    1. Shiva at the death of Sati, to express his grief and anger.
    2. Krishna on the head of serpant Kaliya
    3. Indra at the birth of Jain Tirthkar Rishabhdev

~100 words.

Analysis/Rambling/Commentary/Observations:

before reading further, make sure you’ve read above culture
question-answers first, and also tried solving them at home from
whatever books/material you’ve at home.

Marks per question

Over the last few years, UPSC was moving towards “more questions for less marks” trend e.g.

No. Of Questions x Marks Per question =Total Marks
1 60 60
2 30 60
4 15 60
5 12 60

In 2012’s General Studies Mains paper, some of the Questions were even asked for “1 mark” each! E.g  PV Sindhu, Mario Miranda.

  • So, it was natural for the players to expect that lot of questions will be of 1m, 2m, 5m each.
  • Even in IFoS-2013 Mains exam, UPSC had asked all questions in 6-8 marks range. so the expectation even more bolstered.
  • Hence the study approach of most candidates= focused on gathering maximum number of “terms” with 20-50 words for each. Especially for culture, sci-tech, even for world-history to some extent.
  • UPSC did follow that expected line: questions were indeed small,
    only in terms of marks (5 marks and 10 marks each) but not in terms of
    length (100 words and 200 words each).

Difficulty level & BackbreakingTM

CULTURE QUESTIONS IN 2013 PREVIOUSLY
  1. on Sangam literature giving picture of South India’s society and Economy
  1. Sangam literature has been asked under two markers in GS papers (2000 and 2007)
  2. How do recent archaeological findings and Sangam literary texts
    enlighten us about the early state and society in South India? (2008
    under History optional)
  1. Chola temples
  1. GS paper in 1999 under two markers.
  2. Bring out the regional variations in the early south Indian temple architectural styles. (2008 under History optional)
  1. Tandav Dance
not seen in previous paper (or maybe I didn’t look carefully)
  • Two out three topics were not new, the only challenge was to bring
    200 and 100 words worth content respectively- especially for students
    without history optional.
  • For both questions- sufficient matter available in standard reference books, as we saw while solving the answers.
  • But then a player wouldn’t have prepared such topics in that detail- because the previous trend of UPSC forced him to do Gadhaa majoori of mugging up 50 dozen folk dances, painters, authors etc. for 20-30 words each with hope that lot of 2 markers will be asked.
  • The GS1 paper started with culture question- hence most players
    would have panicked and it indirectly affected their performance even in
    remaining questions from history-post-independence India and geography
    where they did have sufficient answer points inside their head.
  • Besides, even if the answer is verbatim given in a standard
    reference book- hiding in the plain sight, doesn’t mean the aspirant can
    recall all the points during the actual exam. The stress, anxiety and
    fatigue doesn’t let the mind perform @100% efficiency.
  • Even if he can recall entire content, still it is humanly impossible
    to finish 25 questions in 5000 words with high quality points within
    three hours.

Thus, once again, the innocent bystanders are massacred while UPSC deploys BackbreakingTM move against coaching classes, rot learners (and senior players*).

Some more Conspiracy theories:

THEORY #1
  • All three culture questions are related to south India. Because
    Sangam=South India, Chola=South India and Tandav
    Dance=Nataraja=associated with South India.
  • In other words, the paper was set by a South Indian professor.
  • So for Mains-2014, candidate must prepare South Indian culture topics thoroughly.
THEORY #2
  • In CSAT, CAPF and CDS 2013 exams, UPSC has shown its prem for Buddism and Jainism MCQs. Prior to that, two markers related to folk dances and festivals.
  • So Coaching walla (and senior players*) would have assumed that
    similar Buddism-Jainism-cave-folk-festival type stuff will come in
    Mains.
  • Therefore, asking about South Indian culture was the most logical step according to UPSC’s BackbreakingTM rulebook for Mains-2013.
  • And hence, the most logical thing to do for Mains-2014= ignore south Indian culture!

*it is a widely believed conspiracy theory that UPSC chairman prefers
first timers over senior players.  All this so called exam
reform/gimmicks/tomfoolery is meant to prevent any senior player from
gaining advantage by his repeated experience.

And as usual, my sympathies and respect goes for these hard working
senior players for they’re the victims of circumstances- everyone wants
to crack exam in first trial, but Cinderella story doesn’t happen with
everyone- so what can they do? Try again and again until age, attempt,
money or willpower runs out.

Back to the culture topic:

Causal revision = #Epicfail

  • Frequent and serious revision is more important than wide coverage. e.g Chola temples question: Gopuram, vimana, Mandap etc.= you’ve already come across these terms many times in the same routine books like GS Manual and Spectrum’s culture.
  • But while reading, if you just superficially glance over the information “thik hai..thik hai” (in the haste to finish reading many topics) then you cannot recall points in the exam=> low quality filler answers.

Focus on Dramatic part = also #EPICFAIL

In December 2013, the state election result came. BJP won in Madhya
Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh; and emerged as the largest party in
Delhi.

Newschannel Anchor will BJP form government in Delhi? or will you give external support
to AAP? How will delhi result affect Modi’s chances in 2014 general
election? blah blah blah
BJP spokesperson But why are you so obsessed with Delhi? Delhi is worth only 7
parliament seats. Why are you not talking about the other large states
that we’ve won- Rajasthan and MP? They’ll give us good number of
Parliament seats in 2014!

Same is the problem with some UPSC candidates. Always worry about the
dramatic parts rather than paying attention to bigger picture.

  • In Prelims, just because one or two tough questions
    from culture/classical dance come, so they panic, they start doing Ph.D
    study on all classical dance forms, all temples, all painting, google n
    wiki day and night …while ignoring the high-scoring areas such as
    freedom struggle, geography, polity, Economy, Environment-biodiversity
    and Science.
  • In mains, at max, culture is just 8%, even out of
    that, the toughest question the Tandav Dance is just 5 marks (2% of the
    whole paper) and that too requires 100 words to be written.

UPSC-Mains-General-Studies-GS-Paper1

  • Compare to that, there were plenty of questions in Indian History,
    world history, post-independence India and geography (totaling >60%
    of the GS1 paper), where cost: benefit was quite good. So, that’s where
    your focus should be.
  • In the game of chess, if you try to defend every pawn, you end up
    losing the entire match. In short, a culture topic must be prepared but
    should not be prepared beyond its aukaat.

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