Interannual variability of the seasonal surface air-temperature over the Indian subcontinent is investigated using observations for the period of 1900–2005. Our results demonstrate that air-temperature over India is remotely influenced by the El Niño-Southern Oscillation and locally through Indian Ocean sea surface temperature (SST) anomalies. The leading mode of variability (EOF-1, empirical orthogonal function) in the observed air-temperature displays a country-wide warming in all four seasons. The spatial pattern of EOF-1 is similar to that of composite air-temperature anomalies of warm/cold years. Above-normal air-temperature in India (country-wide warming) is positively correlated to a simultaneous El Niño conditions in the eastern Pacific during boreal summer. El Niño induced strong subsidence, weaker low-level winds, less moisture availability and enhanced incoming shortwave radiation over the north Indian Ocean and Indian subcontinent are responsible for air-temperature warming in summer. It is observed that during fall, air-temperature pattern of EOF-1 over India is highly correlated with SST over the tropical oceans. SST correlation is maximum in central Pacific and north Indian Ocean, indicating the importance of both remote and local forcing. During boreal spring and winter, air-temperature warming (EOF-1) is mainly influenced by Indian Ocean SST anomalies. Low moisture and negative sea level pressure anomalies over India indicate the existence of heat low with strong dry winds convergence, which are favourable for air-temperature warming in spring. Although El Niño peaks during winter, its impact on the air-temperature over the Indian subcontinent is weak during this season. The second EOF mode shows dipole-like air-temperature pattern with warming over the south-east and cooling in the north-western India during summer and winter, whereas spring shows opposite polarity. In case of boreal fall, EOF-2 of air-temperature displays a south-west and north-east orientation. Mechanisms responsible for these variabilities are studied in detail.