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Rivers and Lakes of India

Drainage means the system of running water from an area of higher altitude to an area of lower altitude. In India, the two major sources of water which constitute surface flow are melting of snow in the Himalayan region during summer and the monsoon rainfall. Rivers in India are economically very useful and are utilised for providing water for domestic and industrial use, generation of hydro-electricity, irrigation, inland navigation, promotion of agriculture by deposition of alluvium, urban and industrial development along the river banks etc.

There are two predominant river systems in India. They are:

  1. North Indian rivers (Himalayan rivers)
  2. South Indian rivers (Peninsular rivers)

North Indian Rivers (Himalayan Rivers)

There are three major river systems in North India, the systems of the Indus, the Ganga and the Brahmaputra. These are perennial rivers arising from the melted water of the Himalayan glaciers. These rivers are mighty rivers and drain the North Indian Plains along with their numerous tributaries.
  1. Indus system River Indus rises near Mount Kailash in Tibet and passes through inaccessible mountain ranges of Jammu and Kashmir. It enters Pakistan after Nanga Parbat peak, takes a southerly flow and drains into the Arabian Sea at Karachi. Major tributaries are Jhelum, Chenab, Ravi, Beas and Sutlej, of which Chenab is the longest. Punjab (land of five rivers) is made up of the fertile alluvium of these rivers.
  2. Ganga system The Ganga forms the most important rivers system of India. The Ganga Basin lies in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and West Bengal, though the tributaries spread over Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Delhi, Punjab and Haryana. River Ganga arises from the Gomukh ice cave of the Gangotri glacier, where the main head-water of the Ganga is known as Bhagirathi. After its confluence with Alaknanda at Devaprayag, the river is called Ganga. On reaching the plains at Haridwar, the Ganga meets some of its major tributaries such as Yamuna, Ghaghara, Gomati, Gandak, Kosi (arising from the Himalayas) and Chambal, Son (arising from the central Indian Highlands). River Yamuna joins river Ganga near Allahabad, called Prayag Sangam. In West Bengal, the river bifurcates into two branches near Farakka. One of the branches, the Bhagirathi–Hooghly flows southward through West Bengal and the other branch, the Padma, flows towards Bangladesh and drains into the Bay of Bengal.
  3. Brahmaputra system Brahmaputra rises from Chemayundung glacier in Tibet where it flows eastward for about 1200 km as Tsang Po. The river enters India as Dihang through a narrow gorge and emerges from the foothills in Arunachal Pradesh. The flow is called Brahmaputra once it is joined by Dibang and Lohit in the Assam valley, where it flows westwards. It is joined by tributaries like Manas, Subansiri and Dhansiri. The Brahmaputra turns southwards near Dhubri to enter Bangladesh as Jamuna. In Bangladesh, it meets the Padma (name of Ganga in Bangladesh) and flows into the Bay of Bengal forming the world’s largest delta, the Ganga–Brahmaputra delta. In Assam, it forms the largest river island in the world, called Majuli.

South Indian Rivers

The rivers of Peninsular India are mainly non-perennial rivers which flow during the rainy season and become dry in summer. Since they flow down the slopes of the ghats, they form many waterfalls and are useful for the generation of hydro-electric power.

The South Indian rivers are divided into the following categories:

  1. East-flowing rivers—These rivers flow along the eastward slope of the Deccan plateau. They originate from the Western Ghats and flows eastward to the Bay of Bengal. The major rivers are as follows:
    1. Mahanadi—It rises from Siwaha range and flows through Odisha to reach Bay of Bengal forming the Mahanadi delta.
    2. Godavari—It is the largest river of South India. It rises at Trimbakeswara near Nasik in Maharashtra and flows across Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh. The major tributaries are Pranhita, Penganga, Wardha and Wainganga. The river forms a fertile delta at the mouth. Godavari is called the Ganga of the South.
    3. Krishna—River Krishna rises near Mahabaleshwar near Pune in Maharashtra and flows across Maharashtra, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh before draining into the Bay of Bengal. At the mouth, it forms the Krishna delta. Bhima, Tungabhadra, Koyna, Ghataprabha, Malaprabha are the major tributaries.
    4. Cauvery—It rises at Talakaveri near Brahmagiri hills in Coorg district of Karnataka, flows through Karnataka and Tamil Nadu to reach the Bay of Bengal. River Cauvery forms a delta at its mouth. Hemavathi, Simsa, Kabini, Arkavati, Bhavani etc. are the major tributaries.
  2. West-flowing rivers—These are swift flowing rivers that reach the Arabian Sea. There are two major rivers, the Narmada and the Tapti.
    1. Narmada—It is the largest among the west-flowing rivers. It rises from Amarkantak Plateau of Madhya Pradesh and flows through a narrow gorge between the Vindhyan and Satpura ranges to join the Arabian Sea along the Gujarat coast.
    2. Tapti (Tapi) rises from Multai in Betul district of Madhya Pradesh, flows swiftly westwards through a deep rift valley south of the Satpuras and joins the Arabian Sea after flowing over the Gujarat plain.
    3. Other west-flowing rivers are Kali, Sharavathi, Netravathi in Karnataka, which are all swift-flowing rivers that flow over short distances.
  3. Inland rivers of the desert area—Rivers of inland drainage do not meet an open ocean, rather fall into an enclosed water body like an inland sea or lake. A few such streams flow in the arid regions of Rajasthan. Luni is a typical example of an inland river that disappears in the Rann of Kutch. Others are Saraswati and Baner.


Some geographical factors like water-filled glacial troughs, natural hollows in rocky areas or lagoons and backwaters are sites of natural lakes in India. Few natural lakes in India, such as the Chilka and Pulicat are salt water lakes in eastern coast, of which Chilka is the largest lagoon of India. Asthamudi and Vembanad are backwater lagoons in Kerala. Some fresh water lakes of Kashmir are Dal and Wular, whereas Nainital, Bheemtal, Naukachiatal in Uttarakhand are famous tourist spots in the Himalayas. The Magada Masur Lake near Dharwad is in Karnataka.

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