Traditional continuous hydrological models have a large number of free parameters whose values need to be determined through calibration, and thus their applicability is limited to gauged basins. For prediction in ungauged catchments, hydrologists generally follow regionalization methods to develop region-specific calibration-free continuous models. An alternative attempt was made recently to develop a calibration-free model by proposing an empirically derived universal ‘decay function’ that enables definition of instantaneous dryness index as a function of antecedent rainfall and solar energy. The model was earlier tested in the USA, and its performance was found to be comparable to that shown by regionalization-based models. Here, we test the instantaneous dryness index-based calibration-free model considering data from 108 Indian catchments. The medians of coefficient of determination (R2), Nash–Sutcliffe efficiency (NSE) and Kling–Gupta efficiency (KGE) values for the study catchments, respectively, are 0.50, 0.38 and 0.40. Furthermore, the model's performance significantly improved upon Box–Cox transformation (RBC2, NSEBC and KGEBC, respectively, are 0.70, 0.52 and 0.57), suggesting that the model predicts discharge quite well except during flood periods. Overall, our results suggest the model can be used as an alternative platform for predicting discharge in ungauged catchments in the USA and peninsular India, if not in every part of the world.