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Drainage System of India

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  • Last Updated : 18 May, 2022
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The term ‘drainage’ refers to the natural or artificial evacuation of surplus surface or subsurface water from a region. The word ‘drainage system’ refers to a series of rivers that naturally drain saturated areas into low-lying areas known as ‘drainage basins’ in geomorphological terminology. 

The Western Ghats, which extend from north to south close to Peninsular India’s western coast, form the primary water divide. The Mahanadi, Godavari, Krishna, and Kaveri are just a few of the Peninsula’s main rivers that flow eastward and into the Bay of Bengal. 

What is Drainage?

The word drainage refers to a region’s river system. Do you know that all of a region’s rivers come together at one point and drain into a bigger water body like a lake, sea, or ocean? A drainage system is defined as an area drained by a single river. Two drainage basins are separated by a mountain or highland. Water split is the term for this type of separation. 

Drainage is the movement of water through well-defined channels, and a drainage system is a network of such channels.

Here are important terms used in understanding the drainage and drainage systems:

  • The geological time period, type, and structure of rocks, terrain, slope, and other factors all influence an area’s drainage pattern.
  • A river drain is a specified region that is known as the river’s catchment area.
  • A drainage basin is an area drained by a river and its tributaries.
  • The watershed area is the borderline that separates one drainage basin from another.
  • When the water bodies are combined with any river are known as tributaries.
  • When any river comes out from that river is known as a Distributaries.

Types of Drainage Patterns

 Following are the major drainage patterns:

  1. Dendritic – Where the river channels follow the sloping topography, dendritic patterns emerge. The creek and its tributaries resemble tree branches, hence the name dendritic. e.g. The rivers of the northern plains; Indus, Ganga, and Brahmaputra.
  2. Trellis – A trellis pattern is formed when a river and its tributaries are linked at nearly right angles. A pattern like a trellis. Hard and soft rocks exist parallel to each other, forming a trellis drainage pattern. e.g. The rivers in the upper part of the Himalayan region; Indus, Ganga and Brahmaputra.
  3. Rectangle – On a stubbornly jointed rocky surface, a rectangular drainage pattern forms. e.g. Streams found in the Vindhya mountain range; Chambal, Betwa, and Ken.
  4. Radial – When a watercourse runs in multiple directions from a central peak or dome-like structure, a radial pattern emerges. e.g. The rivers originating from the Amarkantak range; Narmada and Son.
  5. Parallel – It grows in areas with parallel, elongated landforms and a significant slope to the surface. Following the slope of the surface, tributary streams tend to expand out in a parallel-like pattern. e.g. The rivers originating in the Western Ghats; Godavari, Kaveri, Krishna, and Tungabhadra.
  6. Centripetal – As streams travel toward a central depression, it is the polar opposite of the radial. These streams feed ephemeral lakes that evaporate during dry spells throughout the wetter parts of the year. e.g. Loktak lake.

Drainage System of India

There are numerous small and large rivers in India’s drainage system. It is the result of the three major physiographic units’ evolutionary process, as well as the nature and characteristics of hustle. The Ganga, Indus, and Brahmaputra river basins are all part of the Himalayan drainage system. The Narmada, Tapi, Mahanadi, Godavari, Krishna, and Kaveri all drain the peninsular plateau. 

The Bay of Bengal receives 90% of India’s total surface water, while the Arabian Sea receives the remaining 10%. A water divide separates the drainage systems that run into the Arabian Sea and the Bay of Bengal, which spans the Western Ghats, Aravallis, and Yamuna Sutlej divide. There are numerous minor and large drainage systems in India. It’s influenced by the physical features of the subcontinent.

The Indian drainage system is divided into two categories based on its origin, nature, and features.

  1. The Himalayan drainage. and
  2. The Peninsular drainage.

The Himalayan Drainage System (Himalayan Rivers)

The Indus, Gangas, and Brahmaputra rivers make up the Himalayan rivers. This system’s rivers are supplied by both snowmelt and precipitation, making them perpetual. In their rugged journey, these rivers create V-shaped valleys, rapids, and waterfalls. They generate depositional features such as flat valleys, oxbow lakes, flood plains, braided channels, and deltas near the river mouth when they enter the plains. 

As these three rivers of the globe are lengthy and are linked by many huge tributaries they form river systems. Following are the river systems included in the Himalayan Drainage System:

The Indus River System 

  • It is one of the world’s largest rivers, rising in Tibet near Lake Mansarovar and entering India through the Ladakh region of J & K.
  • It joins the Zaskar, Nubra, Shyok, and Hunza rivers in Kashmir and flows through Baltistan, Gilgit, and other parts of Pakistan before reaching the Arabian Sea east of Karachi.
  • The slope of the Indus plain is fairly gradual. With a total length of 2900 km, it is the longest river in the world. J&K, Himachal Pradesh, and Punjab are all part of the Indus basin.

The Ganga River System 

  • It forms the world’s largest delta, the Sundarbans delta, and the Ganga is 2,500 km long.
  • The Ganga begins in Gangotri, which is located in Bhagirathi’s Bhagirathi Glacier. This is known as ‘Bhagirathi’ from the point of origin to the point where it meets Alaknanda in Devaprayag.
  • The Ganga comes from the mountains and flows through the plains at Haridwar.
  • The Yamuna, the Ghaghara, the Gandak, and the Kosi are all prominent tributaries.

The Brahmaputra River System

  • Its origins are in Tibet. It runs parallel to Tibet’s Himalayan ranges. It runs eastwards in a line parallel to the Himalayas.
  • It does a U-turn at Namcha Barwa and enters Arunachal Pradesh, India. It is known as the ‘Dihang,’ and it is joined by the Dibang, Lohit, and many other tributaries that flow into the Brahmaputra in Assam.

The Peninsular Drainage System (Peninsular Rivers) 

Several rivers flow through the peninsular plateau. The Narmada and Tapi rivers rise in the central Indian hills. They flow westward till they meet the Arabian Sea. Between the Vindhyas in the north and the Satpura ranges in the south, the Narmada flows through a narrow valley. In the south, the Tapi runs south of the Satpura hills. The Mahanadi, Godavari, Krishna, and Kaveri are the other major rivers that travel eastward and join the Bay of Bengal, with the Godavari being the longest peninsular river.

The Mahanadi Basin

  • In the hills of Chhattisgarh, the Mahanadi rises. To reach the Bay of Bengal, it passes through Odisha. The river stretches for around 860 km.
  • Seonath, Hasdeo, Mand, Jonking, and Tel rivers are major tributaries.
  • Its basin is bordered on the north by the Central India hills, on the south and east by the Eastern Ghats, and on the west by the Maikala range.

The Tapi Basin

  • It runs parallel to the Narmada in a rift valley but is significantly less in length.
  • Parts of Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, and Maharashtra are included in its basin.

The Godavari Basin

  • The Godavari is the Peninsular’s largest river.
  • It originates in Maharashtra’s Nasik area and empties into the Bay of Bengal.
  • Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Odisha, and Andhra Pradesh are all tributaries of the river.
  • Its main tributaries are the Penganga, Indravati, Pranhita, and Manjra.

The Narmada Basin

  • It rises in Amarkantak, MP, and runs west across the rift valley.
  • The Narmada, on its way to the sea, passes through a number of attractive sites.
  • Hiran, Orsang, Barna, and Kolar are the river’s major tributaries.
  • Parts of Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, and Gujarat are included in the Narmada basin.

The Kaveri Basin 

  • The Kaveri River rises in the Brahmagiri highlands of Karnataka’s Kodagu district.
  • It is a holy river in India’s south.
  • Arkavathi, Hemavathi, Bhavani, Kabini, and Amravati are some of its major tributaries.
  • It runs southeast through the states of Karnataka, Kerala, and Tamil Nadu, eventually draining into the Bay of Bengal via Pondicherry.

The Krishna Basin 

  • The Krishna River, which rises near Mahabaleshwar in Sahyadri, is the second biggest east-flowing Peninsular river.
  • Its main tributaries are the Koyna, Tungabhadra, and Bhima rivers.
  • Before flowing into the Bay of Bengal, it passes through the states of Maharashtra, Karnataka, Telangana, and Andhra Pradesh.

Sample Questions

Question 1: Why can’t the peninsular river be sailed?


The peninsular river is impassable due to the following factors:

  1. A substantial number of rivers on the peninsula are seasonal.
  2. The flow of these rivers is determined by rainfall, and they often dry up in the summer.
  3. Riverbeds are uneven, rocky, and steeply sloping.
  4. Dam construction is complex, and as a result, navigation is impossible.

Question 2: What exactly do you mean when you say “water divide”? Can you give an example?


The boundaries of drainage basins are typically well defined . A drainage divide, also known as a well water divide, is a line that separates two contiguous drainage basins. It has a lot of step mountain ranges or hills that divide it. When it rains on one side of the divide, the water flows into one drainage basin, while when rains on the other side of the divide, the water flows into a separate drainage basin. 

Within a drainage basin, water that is flowing downhill may come to a halt due to a dejection in the ground. The process is used to create ponds, which are small bodies of water. e.g.There is a water divide near Manasarovar Lake, which causes the Indus River to flow west and the Brahmaputra River to flow east, causing this.

Question 3: Write a short note on tributaries and distributaries? 


  • Tributaries – When the water bodies combined with any river is known as tributaries.
  • Distributaries – When any river come out from that river is known as distributors.

Question 4: Mention some major characteristics of the Peninsular rivers and the Himalayan rivers?


Characteristics of the Himalayan rivers are:

  • This system’s rivers are supplied by both snowmelt and precipitation, making them perpetual.
  • In their rugged journey, these rivers create V-shaped valleys, rapids, and waterfalls.
  • They generate depositional features such as flat valleys, oxbow lakes, flood plains, braided channels, and deltas near the river mouth when they enter the plains.

Characteristics of the Peninsular rivers are:

  • These rivers originate from the Peninsular plateau and central highland.
  • They are Seasonal and dependent on monsoon rainfall.
  • They are Old rivers with graded profile and have almost reached their base levels.

Question 5: Every year, why do the Himalayan rivers flood? 


The Himalayan rivers get their water from melted snow on the imposing mountains, as well as rain and snowmelt. These rivers are flooded every year during the monsoon season as a result of high rainfall. 

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