The present study focuses on identifying the main atmospheric circulation characteristics associated with aerosol episodes (AEs) over Kanpur, India during the period 2001–2010. In this respect, mean sea level pressure (MSLP) and geopotential height of 700 hPa (Z700) data obtained from the NCEP/NCAR Reanalysis Project were used along with daily Terra-MODIS AOD550 data. The analysis identifies 277 AEs [AOD500 > (Formula presented.) 500 + 1STDEV (standard deviation)] over Kanpur corresponding to 13.2 \% of the available AERONET dataset, which are seasonally distributed as 12.5, 9.1, 14.7 and 18.6 \% for winter (Dec–Feb), pre-monsoon (Mar–May), monsoon (Jun–Sep) and post-monsoon (Oct–Nov), respectively. The post-monsoon and winter AEs are mostly related to anthropogenic emissions, in contrast to pre-monsoon and monsoon episodes when a significant component of dust is found. The multivariate statistical methods Factor and Cluster Analysis are applied on the dataset of the AEs days’ Z700 patterns over south Asia, to group them into discrete clusters. Six clusters are identified and for each of them the composite means for MSLP and Z700 as well as their anomalies from the mean 1981–2010 climatology are studied. Furthermore, the spatial distribution of Terra-MODIS AOD550 over Indian sub-continent is examined to identify aerosol hot-spot areas for each cluster, while the SPRINTARS model simulations reveal incapability in reproducing the large anthropogenic AOD, suggesting need of further improvement in model emission inventories. This work is the first performed over India aiming to analyze and group the atmospheric circulation patterns associated with AEs over Indo-Gangetic Plains and to explore the influence of meteorology on the accumulation of aerosols. © 2014, Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg.