India's education minister plans to introduce vedic astrology, based on ancient Hindu texts, in universities and to impose Sanskrit on science students.
Murali Manohar Joshi has been accused of taking the country back to medieval times. Leading scientists, including physicist Jayant Narlikar, have appealed to prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee to intervene.
Newspapers are inundated with letters from academics denouncing the move as "regressive".
"When India should be giving a thrust to study and research in information technology, biotechnology and other frontier areas, the University Grants Commission has taken a giant leap backwards by advocating the fictional science of astrology," one scientist said.
Mr Joshi, who taught physics at Allahabad University, said: "Every newspaper carries a column on the subject. People refer to it, and qualified people should therefore try to understand it."