Spatial variability of aridity over northern India (north of 20°N) is studied by examining variations in the arid area. Area with an objectively determined summer monsoon rainfall (June to September total) of less than 500 mm is identified as arid area. The summer monsoon rainfall of 212 rain-gauges from 212 districts of the region for the period 1871–1984 are used in the analysis. An interesting feature of the arid area series is that it shows decreasing trend from beginning of the present century. The summer monsoon rainfall fluctuations over five subjectively divided zones over northern India are examined to understand the association between rainfall and the arid area variations. The rainfall series for northwest India shows a significant increasing trend and that for northeast India a significant decreasing trend from the beginning of this century. Rainfall fluctuations over the remaining zones can be considered intermediate stages of a systematic spatial change in the rainfall pattern. This suggested that the recent decreasing trend in the arid area is due to a westward shift in the monsoon rainfall activities. From correlation analyses it is inferred that perhaps the recent decreasing trend in the arid area and increasing trend in the monsoon rainfall over northwest India are associated with a warming trend of the northern hemisphere.