Some historical snippets of BN – Part 19 – To Applaud or Not Applaud!

There are two types of rasikas. The first type will wait for the dancer to finish the particular piece and then appreciate by applause. Then, there are the second type of rasikas, who cannot (absolutely cannot) wait till the end, and show their appreciation by applauding for every jathi. It is possible that they are on a sugar-high and cannot contain their excitement about the artist’s/dancer’s performance. In fact, they are not that different from the movie-goer who sits nearby and keeps talking of what is going to happen next, within your earshot.

Image Courtesy: Tumblr

If you belong to the first category, then you are well within your limits to give the second category a judging look and scream internally! This is, of course, my personal opinion. 🙂 If you get the idea, this post is about applause.

Image courtesy: Google

The main source of this post is the papers/articles tiled “The Manner of ‘Applause’ in Ancient Indian Stage” by Prof. O. C Gangooly and “A Note on ‘Applause in Ancient India'” by Prof. V. Raghvan is published in the Journal of Music Academy of Madras in 1946. 

For previous parts on the historical snippets, click on Part 1Part 2Part 3,Part 4Part 5Part 6Part 7Part 8Part 9Part 10Part 11Part 12Part 13Part 13aPart 14Part 15, Part 16, Part 17, and Part 18.

Disclaimer: I have attached the link to the pdf of the article as part of this post. I am not really quite sure of the copyright, although the website had no mention of it anywhere. So, I will remove the document if anyone points to any copyright infringement.

According to Prof. Gangooly’s article Rabindranath Tagore had suggested that the practice of clapping after a performance (dance or drama) should be banned. The reason being that it is a western concept and there are no precedents in Indian dramatics. While, Prof. Gangooly gives examples from four sources: a Vaishnava literature in Bengali, Bala Ramayanam, Katha Sarit Sagara, and from Sankhya tattva kaumudi to support his view that clapping was indeed  a prevalent practice in Ancient India.

The note following the article by Prof. V. Raghavan goes to the head of Indian dramaturgy, Bharata’s Natyashastra. In Chapter 27, Bharata gives the following things that indicate a successful production. [1]

  • Slight smile
  • Smile
  • Excessive/loud laughter
  • Sadho, meaning well done
  • Aho, meaning how wonderful,
  • Kashtam/kastam, meaning pathetic
  • Tumultuous applause or swelling uproar
  • No noise, no disturbance, no unusual occurrence during the production of the play

The last one is classified under the Divine (cultured spectators who generally take interest in deeper and more subtle aspects) and the rest are under Human (spectators who are moved by outward and not deep aspects of the performance). This is all well and good, since Bharata’s classification will put the entire rasika base as those who don’t get the “deeper aspects” of the performance!

So, Bharata has nothing explicitly mentioned about clapping, other than the word “Angulikshepa” for the overall success of a production. Manmohan Ghosh translation states Angulikshepa as “giving away rings”, while Prof. V. Raghavan interprets that word as “waving of fingers when when one does not have a piece of cloth to throw up or wave”. I think this “waving of fingers” is probably very close to what Deaf applause looks like. [2]

The words Kara (कर) and Hasta (हस्त) mean hand. Thus, Karataala (करताल) or Hastataala (हस्तताल) would literally mean clapping of hands. But, does the clapping mean appreciation or derision? Here, I take the help of Monier-Williams dictionary. By doing a search for “clapping”

आस्फाल (Aasphala)
आस्फोट (Aasphota)
आस्फोटन (Aasphotana)
कङ्कमाला (Kankamaalaa)
करतलताल (Karatalataala)
करताल (Karatala)
करतालिका (Karatalika)
करस्वन (Karaswana)
तलताल (Talataala)
ताण्डवतालिक (Tanadavataalika)
तालवाद्य (Talavadya)
पाणिवाद (Panivadya)
सहस्ततलम् (Sahastatalam)
स्तनित (Stanita)
हस्तताल (Hastataala)

Similarly, by doing a search for “applause” we find words such as:

गीर्णि (Giirni)
धन्यवाद (Dhanyavaad)
प्रशंसालाप (Prashansalaap)
भन्द् (Bhanda)
भन्दना (Bhandanaa)
रटन (Ratan)
शीत्कार (Shitakaara)
संराधन (Sarandhana)
साधुकार (Sadhukaar)
साधुध्वनि (Sadhudhvani)
हलहला (Halahalaa)

These words have been used in Sanskrit literature like  Naishadacharita, Mahabharata, Bruhajataka, Gitagovinda, Balaramayana, Kathasaritasagara, Jain literature, Mrichakatika, Manusmruti, Kaushikasutra, Harivamsha, Bhagavatapurana, Parishistaparvana, Dashakumaracharita, Dhatupaata, Rigveda, Rajatarangini, etc., (To see which word has been used in which literature search clapping and applause in MW’s advanced search)

One thing is pretty clear, it is all in the context it has been used. This will be clear with an example: “Karatalataaala” is a familiar word for dancers since it occurs in the “Chandana Charchita” ashtapathi of Gita Govinda. [4]

kara-tala-tāla-tarala-valayāvali-kalita-kalasvana-vaṃśe |
rāsa-rase saha-nṛtya-parā hariṇa-yuvatī-praśaśaṃse ||

where the word karatala with tAla mean the gopis while dancing with Krishna in the Raas were clapping the hands to keep time or rhythm. It is at this point the sentence in the note by Prof. V. Raghavan’s needs to be read

It is however not an impossible phenomenon in language, if by the well-known gradual process of semantic shift from ‘laughing at’ ‘to hilariously laughter’, from that to expression of joy and therefrom to an expression of appreciation. kara-tala came to mean in course of time appreciative applause…

Searches for ‘clapping’ and ‘applause’ in Tamizh lexicon [5] give words such as

அச்சாப்பொக்கா (acchapokka) = dance of women round a lamp singing and clapping hands
சாழை (chazhai) = a girl’s game accompanied with clapping of hands
சோபநமடித்தல் (Sopanamatittal) = to dance and sing to the clapping of hands of happy occasions
கைவிளி  (Kaivili) = calling one’s attention by clapping hands or marking signs
கொம்மைகொட்டுதல் (Kommaikottuthal) = to call a person by clapping hands; to invite; 2. to pat on the back, as in appreciation
கொம்மி (Kommi) = a kind of dance accompanied with singing and clapping of hands
கொப்பி (Koppi) = a game of young girls attended with clapping of hands, singing and dancing
கும்மி (Kummi) =  dance with clapping of hands to time and singing, especially among girls
தத்தாக்கி (Tattagki) = 1. clapping of hands by children; 2. a girl’s game of clapping hands and singing
தட்டல் (Tattal) = 1. knocking, striking, clapping, tapping; 2. beating time
தெள்ளேணம் (Tellenam) = a girl’s play accompanied by singing and clapping of hands

where almost all refer to use of hands to keep time/rhythm, except for one கொம்மைகொட்டுதல் (Kommaikottuthal).

So, it maybe purely semantics that the words indicating derision have been changed to appreciation, over time OR the evidences in literature may be unclear. In any case, for enjoy the applause of the rasika sitting next to you, after every jathi!


  1. Page 511, Natyashastra of Bharata Muni,  by Dr. Manmohan Ghosh.
  2. Play Ball! by Irene Duke.
  3. Monier Willams Sanskrit to English Dictionary

One response to “Some historical snippets of BN – Part 19 – To Applaud or Not Applaud!

  1. Pingback: Article from BNandWWW published in Rasikatvam | Bharathanatyam and the worldwide web·

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