While Sanskrit is still perceived as an ancient language and considered too difficult to comprehend, it is emerging as one of the best optional subjects in the UPSC Civil Services Main. The ‘Literature of Sanskrit language’ as an optional subject may not have too many takers and that includes those who studied Sanskrit in school, as they tend to eschew the subject, assuming it is too tough and not commonly spoken/used. The following data may explain it best: If in 2016, around 79 candidates opted for the subject in the Civil Services Main; in 2017, the numbers were even less, at around 65/66, while in 2018 and 2019, it fell to 54 and 53 respectively.
High scoring subject
But despite the small numbers, there is much more to Sanskrit in the Mains than what is widely known. The syllabus for one is less, offering the aspirants a chance to revise it many times before the exams. “It is also scoring, and among the few humanities subjects, that is in close competition with Physics, Chemistry and Maths, with top scorers securing over 320/400 marks in the Mains. The optional syllabus covers topics that are also taught in General Studies paper such as Ancient Indian culture, Trends in Indian philosophy, etc which can be a time-saver,” says Vachaspati Mishra, president, Uttar Pradesh Sanskrit Sansthan (UPSS), that is set to offer a third session of free Sanskrit coaching to aspirants from November 1.
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Under the 10 months programme, the aspirants will be guided for the Civil Services in areas ranging from the Preliminary examination to the Interview stage. Training will be conducted in three phases wherein grammar, Philology, Philosophy, Sanskrit theatrics, prose and poetry, among others will be taught. Though there is an entrance exam for the programme, candidates, who have qualified for the Preliminary examinations of UPSC 2020-21, will be given direct admission.
Students shy away from Sanskrit on the assumption that they need to attempt the entire Civil Services paper in Sanskrit, says Mishra. But apart from three compulsory questions which need to be answered in Sanskrit, all the other questions must be answered either in Sanskrit or the medium of examination opted by the candidate. He also emphasises the recent government push to link Sanskrit’s prospects with the employability of the youth and sees the Civil Services as the perfect route.
“Topics in the Sanskrit syllabus that focus on ancient Indian culture and philosophy can help the Civil servants get a better understanding of the country. Sanskrit was, in fact, Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose’s chosen subject in the Indian Civil Services exam which should inspire the youth to choose this ‘historically relevant’ subject. And even though candidates opting for Sanskrit are few, the 50% success rate is largely due to those who are passionate about Sanskrit, or others who found the going tough with more challenging subjects,” Mishra adds.
Evidently, students from mostly non-Sanskrit background tend to score well in the subject, and when hailing from the IITs or medical streams, tend to have a scientific temperament. They use flow and pie charts, engage in comparative analysis and extensive research of previous years’ papers,” Mishra remarks.
“Sanskrit has a well-defined syllabus that can be covered quite easily. Secondly, it is essentially a static subject, so aspirants do not need to remember or read current affairs for this optional subject specifically nor do they have to update their notes periodically. Some portions of it, such as grammar, are objective in nature which can help them score 100% marks,” says Himanshu Tyagi, AVP & national product head – govt job exams, Career Launcher.
If aspirants choose Sanskrit, it is because the subject allows them a break from the core General Studies (GS) preparation during Mains, he explains. The popular optional subjects like Anthropology, Geography, History, Sociology etc have a large number of takers who study from the same sources and thus write similar answers. “Therefore, the optional subject that is the sole differentiating factor in the Mains loses its significance. With literature optional, since the number of takers is less, competition is lesser than usual,” he says.
Tyagi dismisses the notion that one needs to have an existing deep knowledge of Sanskrit to opt for the subject. “Even those with basic Sanskrit knowledge (+2 level) can gain command over the subject with 2-3 months of dedicated preparation. The time taken will be even less if one has graduate level knowledge of the subject. However, students struggle with finding the right resources in terms of teachers, study materials etc,” Tyagi says.
Lack of awareness
Limited coaching classes in Sanskrit is again another deterrent, says Siddhidatri Bhardwaj, assistant professor, Sanskrit Department, Banaras Hindu University. She reasons that the number of Sanskrit students opting for the Civil Services is almost negligible, since they do not aim high and are mostly from underprivileged backgrounds. “Family pressure to get into some kind of job soon after graduation restricts their options, and in most cases, such students seek out academic positions. “Lack of awareness and mentoring support also contribute to low enrolment in Sanskrit in the Civil Services Main,” Bharadwaj adds.