The Red Bull driver, who is poised to clinch a fourth straight world championship this weekend, was 1.7 seconds faster than his rivals when he first put in the 1m24.119s that became pole.
That statistic was skewed by the fact that all those out on that stage were using medium tyres whereas Vettel was on softs.
The shock of qualifying was Romain Grosjean's Q1 exit.
The man who fought for victory at Suzuka a fortnight ago will be fighting to get through the field at Buddh having chosen to use medium tyres in Q1.
Vettel was the only other man who went for that strategy, but while he had no problem getting through in 11th, Grosjean could only manage 17th.
Mark Webber used mediums successfully in Q3 to take fourth on the grid. He was 0.928s slower than Red Bull team-mate Vettel, but 0.8s and four places ahead of next-best medium user Fernando Alonso.
The Spaniard's Ferrari team-mate Felipe Massa took fifth, followed by Kimi Raikkonen and Nico Hulkenberg for Lotus and Sauber respectively.
There were no surprises in Q2, with the Toro Rossos and Force India intermingling on rows six and seven, ahead of Valtteri Bottas's Williams and Esteban Gutierrez's Sauber.
Pastor Maldonado joined Grosjean among the Q1 departures, and was only 0.128s clear of Jules Bianchi's Marussia and 0.265s ahead of Giedo van der Garde's Caterham.
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- Motor Racing
- Romain Grosjean
- Nico Rosberg
- Lewis Hamilton