In this study, using 104 years (1901–2004) of high resolution daily gridded rainfall data, variability and long-term trends of extreme rainfall events over central India have been examined. Frequency of extreme rainfall events shows significant inter-annual and inter-decadal variations in addition to a statistically significant long term trend of 6% per decade. Detailed analysis shows that inter-annual, inter-decadal and long-term trends of extreme rainfall events are modulated by the SST variations over the tropical Indian Ocean. The present study supports the hypothesis that the increasing trend of extreme rainfall events in the last five decades could be associated with the increasing trend of sea surface temperatures and surface latent heat flux over the tropical Indian Ocean. In the global warming scenario, the coherent relationship between Indian Ocean SST and extreme rainfall events suggests an increase in the risk of major floods over central India.