Sunday, September 6, 2015

What is Talent?

"Talent" is a word often used to describe performance, be it in performing arts, literature or sports or such other fields. Reality show "India's Got Talent" (IGT) being telecast on the lines of the Global Reality Show "Got Talent" is hugely popular. More and more people are glued to the TV sets and the number of participants is also ever increasing. There are encouraging words about the show and participants. There are also concerns about the pressures that are brought on young minds and bodies to perform in the shows.  IGT is a hot topic of discussions in parties and social circles. 

What is "Talent"?  What are its features and characteristics? When can it be said that someone has a talent in a given field? How is it interpreted and measured? What is the view of western scholars about talent?  Has there been any reference to "Talent" in Indian Literature? These are interesting questions and an effort to answer them makes an interesting study.

Dictionary meaning of talent has two interpretations. Romans and Greeks used the word talent as a unit of weight or money. At one time, one talent of gold was considered equal to two talents of silver. However, the exact measure was varying in different areas. The more appropriate meaning for the word talent in the present context is the second one. It refers to "a special natural ability or aptitude" or "a capacity for achievement of success". It relates to the power of mind or body considered as given to a person for use and improvement. It means the skill someone has for quite naturally to do something that others find hard to emulate. It can be for music, dancing, acting or sports. It is an intellectual giftedness and corresponds to levels significantly higher than the average levels had by others and often extraordinarily  brilliant. Such talents in a child may persist and develop as a trait in adult life. It may disappear in some later on or fail to stand up to higher levels of demand.  Failure of many child artists in adult roles later in life is due to such failures. Some may have strong mathematical talent but not commensurate language skills.  

Westren thoughts on talent studies are said to be not yet settled. In the early part of 20th century, Dr Lewis Terman, an american psychologist and educationalist worked extensively on talent studies and equated giftedness with IQ. While working with Stanford Graduate School of Education, he studied methods of giving educational instructions to gifted children who were considered as genius. Psychometricians and Psychologists are still working on the various dimensions of talent studies. The talent studies reveal that it revolves around motivation, high self concept and creativity.  Whether talent can be developed by hard work and devoting longer hours at a given field is another important issue.  While it is reasonable to assume that hard work and longer hours of training would result in better nurturing of a given talent, there appears to be a point beyond which any further efforts may not yield commensurate rewards.

Is there any reference to "talent" in Indian Literature? It most certainly is and that too as far back as 1000 years! The equivalent word for 'Talent" is "प्रतिभा" (Pratibha).  Bhatta Touta (or Bhatta Taata) has very clearly defined "Pratibha" in his work "Kaavya Koutuka". Acharya Abhinava Gupta has acknowledged Bhatta Touta as one of his Gurus and said to have even written a commentary on Kavya Koutuka, by name "Vivarana".  Unfortunately, both Kavya Koutuka and Vivarana are not available.  Bhatta Touta and Abhinava Gupta lived in Kashmir in the 10th century AD.  Though the original texts are not available, Bhatta Touta's definition of "Pratibha" is quoted in many literary works from 10th century onwards. It reads as under:

प्रज्ञा नवनावोल्लेखशलिनी प्रतिभा मता |  तदनुप्राणनाजीवद् वर्णना निपुणः कविः ||

Pragnaa navanavollekhashalini pratibha mataa,
Tadanupranajeevad varnanaanipunah kavihi.        

Pratibha (Talent) is the ability to bring out some newer things again and again. With Pratibha (Talent) as base, one who can eloquently describe life is considered as a poet. (This is only an approximate English translation and fails to bring the total ethos of the definition). 

To sum up, Pratibha (Talent) can be defined as "The urge to create something new erupting continuously and spontaneously".  What we generally refer to as talent is often a capacity to imitate something which is already done by someone else and not talent in its original and unadulterated meaning!


  1. It is easy to say about someone having a talent who can do things very well in a particular area or in different areas. It would be hard to say all the time whether that person's abilities were originated within himself or taught by someone or imitated. Prathibha, in my opinion, is equivalent to talent of some people who are born with it and also who has developed it by himself/herself to full extent to be appreciated by others. But my hats off for you for giving this difficult subject a real meaning and for us to think about it also. UR.......

  2. Amazing analysis of a commonly used word. "The urge to create something new erupting continuously and spontaneously" - sort of sums up your own writings.


  3. very highly informative worth understanding

  4. A classic study. You have a talent to analyse the subject going deep into it. I understood talent as one which is inborn, innovate and original. The same is developed by nurturing through regular practice and hard work. Thank you for a great analysis of the word Talent touching upon the Mula for bringing out its real meaning.

  5. A classic study. You have a real talent to make reading very interesting on any subject. As I understood, Talent is Inborn gift, innovative and original. Hard work and practice plays a supporting role to nurture the same. The in-depth analysis on the word is very informative and thought provoking.

  6. Thanks for making me understand the real meaning of talent - ability to create some thing new continuously and repeatedly.

  7. Thanks Sir... for..the tonic; making me know myself more.It is really inspiring for me.I am glade that my great grandfather gave me this beautiful name.

  8. Thanks Sir...for- the tonic; making me know more about myself.It is really inspiring for me.I am glad that my great grandfather gave me this name.. :)

  9. In Geeta it is said Yoga karmasu kaushalam ,Talent is yoga your expertise when used at the time of performance is yoga Talent is special skill