Vedic Accent

This lesson discusses some features of Vedic Sanskrit. You can skip this lesson if you like.

Vedic Sanskrit has a peculiar property called pitch accent. In languages that have pitch accent, certain syllables are at a higher musical tone than others. Because of pitch accent, some of the ambiguities that exist in Classical Sanskrit disappear in Vedic Sanskrit. Thus a word like rājaputra, which could be either a tatpuruṣa or a bahuvrīhi and must be interpreted by context alone, is perfectly clear in Vedic Sanskrit.

Classical Sanskrit texts do not have accent marked. However, accent is technically a part of the language; the grammarian Panini took great pains to define the accent rules that apply to Sanskrit.

Sanskrit has three distinct accents, although some others may appear depending on the context or the style of the work. You can see all three of these accents below.


A high tone is called udātta. Thus Panini writes: uccair udāttaḥ. In Devanagari, the accent is not marked. In IAST, the letter uses what is called the acute accent.



A low tone is called anudātta, or "not udātta." Thus Panini writes: nīcair anudāttaḥ. In Devanagari, the accent is marked with a horizontal line below the letter. In IAST, the letter is not marked.



A mix of udātta and anudātta is called svarita. Thus Panini writes: samāhāraḥ svaritaḥ. In Devanagari, the accent is marked with a vertical line above the letter. In IAST, the letter uses what is called the grave accent.


But the svarita is not an arbitrary mix of these two accents. The first part is udātta and lasts for half the length of a short vowel. Thus Panini writes: tasyādita udāttam ardhahrasvam. The rest is anudātta.