Investigations into the climatic forcings that affect the long-term variability of the Indian summer monsoon are constrained by a lack of reliable rainfall data prior to the late nineteenth century. Extensive qualitative and quantitative meteorological information for the pre-instrumental period exists within historical documents, although these materials have been largely unexplored. This paper presents the first reconstruction of monsoon variability using documentary sources, focussing on western India for the period 1781–1860. Three separate reconstructions are generated, for (1) Mumbai, (2) Pune and (3) the area of Gujarat bordering the Gulf of Khambat. A composite chronology is then produced from the three reconstructions, termed the Western India Monsoon Rainfall reconstruction (WIMR). The WIMR exhibits four periods of generally deficient monsoon rainfall (1780–1785, 1799–1806, 1830–1838 and 1845–1857) and three of above-normal rainfall (1788–1794, 1813–1828 and 1839–1844). The WIMR shows good correspondence with a dendroclimatic drought reconstruction for Kerala, although agreement with the western Indian portion of the tree-ring derived Monsoon Asia Drought Atlas is less strong. The reconstruction is used to examine the long-term relationship between the El Nino-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) and monsoon rainfall over western India. This exhibits peaks and troughs in correlation over time, suggesting a regular long-term fluctuation. This may be an internal oscillation in the ENSO-monsoon system or may be related to volcanic aerosol forcings. Further reconstructions of monsoon rainfall are necessary to validate this. The study highlights uncertainties in existing published rainfall records for 1817–1846 for western India.
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