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Important Rivers in India

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  • Last Updated : 24 Aug, 2022
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Since ancient times, there is a great connection between the river and the civilization of India and they economically depend on the river for its agricultural activities, fishing, transportation, etc. With a vast network of rivers, India is regarded as a land of rivers. In our country, these rivers are considered as sacred and have been venerated in the form of gods and goddesses. Based on their origin and water source, the River system of India is classified into two groups:

  1. Peninsular Rivers
  2. Himalayan Rivers

The basic difference between these two groups is, the Himalayan rivers obtain water from rain as well as from melted snow from high mountains. while Peninsular rivers are based on rainfall. 


All the Himalayan Rivers, after originating from the various part of the Himalayas Mountains ranges, rivers either follows northwesterly (Indus system) courses, or easterly (Ganges-Brahmaputra systems) courses. The Himalayan rivers are divided into three main river systems, the Indus system, the Ganga system, and the Brahmaputra system. The length of these rivers is so long and they are also joined by many tributaries. (A river along with its tributaries are known as a river system.)  

All the Himalayan Rivers are continuously flowing throughout the year because the main source of water for these rivers is melting snow and glaciers. During the monsoon months, Himalayas receive very heavy rainfall and for that reason, the swelling of the rivers contains more water than normal which is the main cause for frequent floods in India. 19 major rivers drained from the Himalayas, among them the Indus and the Brahmaputra are the largest. Five catchments of the Indus system named the Jhelum, the Chenab, the Ravi, the Beas, and the Sutlej having an area of about 132,000 square km, collectively spread in the Punjab state in India and Punjab province in Pakistan.

1. The Indus Valley System

The Indus, which is also known as ‘Puranik River’, is one of the great rivers of the world, rises in Tibet, near lake Mansarovar and it flows west and enters into Ladakh one of the union territories of India. The tributaries that join Indus in this region are the Zaskar, the Nubra, the Shyok, and the Hunza and thereafter it enters into Pakistan through Gilgit-Baltistan, and after cover, a total length of 3,180 kilometers finally falls in the Arabian Sea near Karachi. Some of its most important tributaries flow in the Indian Territory i.e, Ravi, Chenab, Sutlej, Beas, and Jhelum. The state of Punjab is named due to these five tributaries river.

2. The Ganga River System

The Ganga River originates from the base of the Himalayan glacier known as Gangotri. The upstream of the Ganga river i.e. Bhagirathi joins the other stream named Alaknanda at Devprayag and forms the River Ganga. The right bank tributaries of the Ganga river are the Yamuna, Son, Damodar, and Punpun and the left bank tributaries are Gandak, Kosi, Gomti, and Ghaghara. After flows through the Indian states of Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Ganges then skirts the Rajmahal Hills to the south and flows southeast, and then enters into Farakka, West Bengal state. Finally, the Ganga flows eastwards from here, the river bifurcates, one of the main branches of the Ganges after entering Bangladesh known as the Padma. Another part of the Ganga which remains in the part of India and finally after cover a 2,525 km long distance merges with the Bay of Bengal, known as the Hooghly river, and passes through some famous cities of West Bengal i.e., Murshidabad, Kolkata, Howrah, etc and the length of the Ganga is over 2510 km.

3. The Brahmaputra River System

The Brahmaputra river origin from the east side of Tibet of the Manasarovar Lake region, north of the Kailash ranges of the Himalayas having an elevation of 5,150m. According to its length, it is the second-largest river in the world after the Amazon river. The Brahmaputra course flows a distance of 2,900 km through four countries named Tibet, Bhutan, India, and Bangladesh before entering the Bay of Bengal. This river flows eastwards parallel to the Himalayas and it enters India in Arunachal Pradesh through a gorge. It is joined by the Dibang, the Lohit, and many other tributary rivers in Assam and for that reason, Brahmaputra forms huge deposits of silt on its bed, and this is the main cause of the river bed to rise.


This river system is much older than the Himalayan River Systems and the Vertical downcutting is negligible. Peninsular River System emerges mainly from the Western Ghats and this runs close to the western coast. Most of the rivers of the peninsula such as the Godavari, the Krishna, the Mahanadi, and the Cauvery flow eastwards and merges into the Bay of Bengal. As Peninsular rivers water sources depend upon rainfall, so basically, these are seasonal in nature and dry up in summers. The peninsular drainage is mainly broad and shallow. The special feature of these rivers is that they make deltas in their mouths. 

1. Godavari

This is also called the Dakshin Ganga due to its largest length among the Peninsular rivers. It is origin is from the Nasik district of Maharashtra and discharges its water into the Bay of Bengal. Its tributaries run through the several states of Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Orissa, and Andhra Pradesh. The principal tributaries of these rivers are Penganga, the Indravati, the Pranhita, and the Manjra. Due to the formation of the picturesque gorge in the lower belt, Godavari is responsible for heavy floods. Finally, after Rajamundri, it splits into several branches and forms a large delta.

2. Mahanadi

This is an important river of Odisha and it is a major river among the rivers of East-central India, after rises near Sihawa in the Raipur district of Chhattisgarh, firstly, it flows towards the northern and then turns towards the East direction, in this way it runs through Orissa before discharge its water into the Bay of Bengal. Hirakud Dam Project, Ravishankar Sagar Project, and The Dudhawa Reservoir Project are the three major projects constructed on the Mahananda River. Its estimated drainage area of 1.42 lakh sq. km. and some navigation is also carried on in the lower course of the river. 48 percent of the drainage basin of this river lies in Orissa while resting in Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. It flows through cities Sambalpur, Cuttack, and Banki.

3. Krishna River

It is the 4th longest river in India, after Ganga, Godavari, and Brahmaputra. Among those east-flowing Peninsular Rivers, it is the 2nd largest river that rises near Mahabaleshwar in Sahyadri of Maharashtra. The river is almost 1,288 kilometers long and it flows through Maharashtra, Karnataka, Telangana, and Andhra Pradesh to finally pour into the Bay of Bengal. Koyna Irrigation Project and The Warna Major Irrigation Project are the two major projects constructed on the Narmada River. The Koyna, the Tungabhadra, the Ghataprabha, Malaprabha, Musi, and the Bhima are its major tributaries and the largest tributary of the Krishna River is the Tungabhadra River. 

4. Kaveri River

Kaveri or Cauvery is a major river in Southern India and originates from Talakaveri in the Brahmagiri range in the Western Ghats. It is also known as the Ganges of the South, it is one of the holiest rivers in South India. The catchment area of the Kaveri basin is estimated to be 81,155 square kilometers and it has many tributaries such as Hemavati, Moyari, Shimsha, Arkavati, Honnuhole, Kabini, Bhavani, Noyyal, and Amaravati. It flows about 800 km across Karnataka, Kerala, Tamilnadu, and Pudducherry and it flows southeast to enter the Bay of Bengal. Krishna Raja Sagar Dam is one of the major multipurpose projects on Cauvery in Karnataka State For centuries, it has supported irrigated agriculture and served as the lifeblood of the ancient kingdoms and most of the modern cities of South India.

5. Narmada

The Narmada River is the 5th longest river in India and is known for being the largest west-flowing river. Narmada river originated from the Amarkantak Plateau in the Anuppur district of Madhya Pradesh. It flows from east to west over a length of 1,312 km before draining through the Gulf of Khambhat into the Arabian Sea, and it forms the traditional boundary between North India and South India and flows mainly through Central India. Narmada River has 41 tributaries. Of these, some major tributaries of the Narmada river are Kolar, Uri, Hiran, Dudhi, Tawa, Sher, etc. Sardar Sarovar Dam, Indira Sagar Dam, and Kolar Dam are the three major dams constructed on the Narmada River.

6. Tapti

The Tapti or Tapi river is located in central India and the total basin area of this river is 65,145 The river originates from the East Satpura Mountain Ranges, in south Madhya Pradesh, and after flows around 724km through the states of Maharashtra, Gujarat, and Madhya Pradesh and at the last, it is draining into the Arabian Sea via the Gulf of Khambhat, close to the Surat City in Gujarat. Some famous tributaries of Tapti are Bori, Girna, Waghur, Purna, Mona, Vaki, Gomai, etc. The Ukai Project and The Kakrapar Project are the two major projects constructed on the Tapti River.

7. Mahi

In western India, it is one of the famous rivers that flows from east to west along with the Narmada and Tapti River. It rises from the western Vindhya Range mountain (Madhya Pradesh), and after flows towards the north side, it enters Rajasthan and then turns southwest direction and finally enter the Gujarat state, after crossed 580 km long way, it merges with the Arabian Sea through the Gulf of Khambhat. Its estimated drainage area of 40,000 This is the only Indian river that crosses the Tropic of Cancer twice. Some famous tributaries of Mahi are Som, Anas, Panam, etc. Kadana Hydroelectric Project and Mahi Hydroelectric Project are the two major hydroelectric projects constructed on the Mahi River.

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