Rivers of India or the Drainage system of India

India is the land of rivers. The rivers of India are seasonal (rivers become live when monsoon water fills them) as well as perennial (rivers flow throughout the year). Rivers are the backbone of the country’s agriculture and economy. So, it is obvious that all the major cities in India are located beside the rivers. Rivers of India have an important role in the Hindu Mythology. We, Indians worship rivers as the mother goddess.

Indian river system formed by various rivers, lakes, streams are generally called the drainage system. On the basis of origin, characteristics, and nature, rivers of India can be classified into two major groups.

  1. The Himalayan river system
  2. The Peninsula river system

Q: What is river basin?

The area drained by a river along with its tributaries is called as a river basin.

  • The Ganga basin is the largest river basin in India.


The Himalayan Rivers of India:

Covering a total area of 3,21,284 sq km, the Himalayan river system is one of the largest river basins in the world. This river system includes all the major international rivers of India, i.e. the Ganga, the Indus, and the Brahmaputra.

Important characteristics:

  1. Most of the rivers of this river system are perennial, i.e. these rivers flow throughout the year. They get water from the glaciers, springs, and rains.
  2. In their early stage, these rivers carving out a number of erosional landforms including waterfalls, steep-sided valleys (having a very deep side), cataracts (large waterfall), rapids (sections of a river bed has a relatively sharp slope).
  3. At their origins (the Himalayas), these rivers are very rambling, but in plains, they flow in a winding way and shift their courses frequently.
  4. During the rainy season, due to excessive rainfall, these rivers sometimes caused a devastating flood.


Divisions of Himalayan River system:

1. The Indus river system

The Indus river is one of Asia’s longest river. It is also known as Sindhu. Indus river originates from a glacier near Bokhar Chu in the Tibetan region in Kailash mountain range beside Mansarovar lake.


  • Indus falls into the Arabian Sea with its tributary Chenab which joins Indus with Jhelum, Chenab, Ravi, and Sutlej.
  • Total length of Indus river – 2,880km (709 km in India)
  • According to the Indus water treaty signed between India and Pakistan in 1960, India can utilize only 20% of the total water of Indus, Jhelum, and Chenab.


2. The Ganga river system

The Ganga is one of the most sacred and important rivers in India. The Ganga originates from the Gangotri glacier near Gomukh in Uttarkashi district of Uttarakhand. At first, the Ganga is known as Bhagirathi, at Devprayag it meets with Alakananda and thereafter became Ganga.

After Uttarakhand, the Ganga passes through the Gangetic plain of North India. After passing through WestBengal, it is divided into two parts. The first part is known as the Hugli river or Adi Ganga, which flows through several districts of WestBengal and falls into the Bay of Bengal. The other part, known as the Padma flows into Bangladesh and submerged into the Bay of Bengal.

  • Total length of the Ganga – 2525 km
  • The Ganga is the third largest river in the world by discharge.
Tributaries of the Ganga:

The tributaries of Ganga can be divided into left bank tributaries and right bank tributaries.


3. The Brahmaputra river system

The Brahmaputra river originates from the Chemayungdung glacier in the Kailash mountain range in Tibet, East of Mansarovar. It is named as the Brahmaputra in Assam and Jamuna in Bangladesh.

The Brahmaputra, along with the Ganga, forms the biggest delta in the world, known as the Sundarbans.

  • Total length – 2900 km
  • Volumewise, Brahmaputra is the largest river in India whereas lengthwise the Ganga is the longest one.
Tributaries of the Brahmaputra:


The Penninsula rivers of India:

The Penninsula rivers of India are older than the Himalayan rivers. These rivers are seasonal as their flow depends on monsoon rainfall. These rivers are flowing in the Deccan Plateau and have already reached their maturity stage.

The Penninsula rivers of India can be classified into two groups, i.e.

  1. East flowing rivers
  2. West flowing rivers

East flowing rivers:

The East flowing rivers flow towards the Bay of Bengal.

  • They formed deltas, not estuaries.
  • Mahanadi, Godavari, Krishna, Cauvery, Brahmani are some major East flowing rivers of India.

major east flowing rivers of India


East flowing peninsula rivers of India


West flowing rivers:

The West flowing peninsula rivers of India flow towards the Arabian Sea.

  • These rivers form estuaries, not deltas.
  • Narmada, Tapti, Luni, Sabarmati, Mahi are some major west flowing rivers of India.

The major west flowing rivers of India


west flowing peninsula rivers of India


Difference between the East & West flowing rivers of India:

difference between the east and west flowing rivers of India


The rivers of India are seasonal as well as perennial. The Ganga, Godavari, Krishna, Yamuna, and Narmada are the top five longest rivers in India. Some of the Indian rivers like the Brahmaputra, Sutlej, and Indus are older than the Himalayan Mountains.


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