`SANSKRIT is the language which represents the mainstream of Indian civilization ... the language which has preserved over the centuries Indian literature, religion, poetry, - all aspects of Indian civilization,'' says Masatoshi Nagatomi, professor of Buddhist studies at Harvard University. Classed as an Indo-European language, Sanskrit is divided into two main types: Vedic, which dates to before 2000 BC and was not written, and Classical, which evolved later.
Today, says Dr. Nagatomi, Sanskrit is to modern Indian tongues as Latin is to English - ``in one sense, a dead language.''
``But it another sense it is not,'' he continues. ``If you go to Rome, there are many Catholic priests who do speak Latin. Likewise if you go to India, there are pundits who do teach and speak Sanskrit.''
But because it is not useful in ``practical experience,'' says Nagatomi, Sanskrit isn't taught in public schools, where the emphasis is on preparing students for working in the modern world. There are exceptions: ``If your father happens to be a pundit, then you will be taught Sanskrit from your childhood.''
For foreigners who ``want to deal with just contemporary India,'' in political science or business, Nagatomi suggests one of the modern languages - Hindi, Bengali, Tamil.