90 per cent of India’s total surface water flowed into the Bay of Bengal and the rest is in the Arabian Sea. The drainage system flowing into the Arabian Sea and the Bay of Bengal is separated by a water divide along the Western Ghats, the Aravalli and the Yamuna Sutlej. There are a large number of small and large rivers in the Indian drainage system. It is the result of the development process of the three major physical units and the nature and characteristics of rainfall.

The Himalayan rivers come from the Himalayas and flow through the Northern Plains.

The major rivers in the Himalayan System are:

  • The Indus River System
  • The Ganga River System
  • The Yamuna River System
  • The Brahmaputra River System

The main source of Peninsular River System or Peninsular Drainage is the Western Ghats. Because the Western Ghats are forming a ‘ water divide, ‘ these rivers either flow eastward into Bengal Bay or westward into the Arab Sea. Peninsular rivers are rivers that are essentially rain-fed.

The major rivers in the Peninsular system are:

  • Mahanadi
  • Godavari
  • Krishna
  • Cauvery

Drain into the Bay of Bengal as they flow on the plateau eastward and create’ delta’ at their mouths; while the Narmada Tapti-the west-flowing rivers fall into the Arab Sea and create’ estuaries.’

Not from glaciers, but from rain-fed rivers. During summer, these rivers significantly decrease or dry up.

Indian Drainage System
Drainage System of India

HIMALAYAN Drainage System

Indus River System

In the early Hindu mythological texts, the mention of Indus River or Sindhu River is witnessed. The river comes from Tibet near Lake Mansarovar. In Jammu and Kashmir, it flows westward into India, flows further through Himachal Pradesh, Punjab, and reaches Pakistan.

It enters the Arab Sea near Karachi, flowing further west. Indus is Pakistan’s biggest river and the national river of the country. Its Indian tributaries are Zanskar, Nubra, Shyok, and Pakistan’s Hunza. Sutlej, Ravi, Beas, Chenab and Jhelum are their other tributaries named after the state of Punjab.

Rivers of India

Ganga River System

The Ganga river system (Ganges) is India’s largest Drainage system. It originates in the glaciers of Gangotri. The upstream Bhagirathi joins the other stream at Devprayag called Alaknanda to form the Ganga River. Ganga has tributaries on both banks; the Yamuna and Son are its right-bank tributaries.

Some of the left bank tributaries are Gomti, Ghaghara, Gandak, Kosi. The Ganges flows through the Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, and West Bengal Indian countries. It lastly reaches the Bay of Bengal.

Yamuna River System

The Yamuna is Northern India’s main river system. The river flows through Uttrakhand, Uttar Pradesh and Haryana from Yamnotri. It crosses Delhi, Mathura, Agra and meets the Chambal, Betwa and Ken rivers to lastly join the Allahabad Ganga. Tons, Chambal, Hindon, Betwa and Ken are Yamuna’s major tributaries. 

Brahmaputra River System

The Brahmaputra, one of India’s main rivers, originates in Tibet’s Himalayan Angsi glacier. It’s called the Tsangpo River there. In Arunachal Pradesh, it enters India and is known as Dihang River.

Dibang, the Lohit, the Kenula are tributaries which form the primary Brahmaputra River and flow through Assam, its longest course, enter Bangladesh and lastly falls into the Bay of Bengal. The Brahmaputra has the largest water quantity of all India’s rivers.

Rivers of India

Important Drainage System of HIMALAYAN India

RIVERSOURCEMOUTHTRIBUTARIESDESCRIPTION
INDUSNear Bokhar Chu Glacier, Tibetan PlateauArabian Sea (near Karachi, Pakistan)Left: Jhelum, Chenab, Sutlej, Ravi, Beas, Zanskar   Right: Shyok, Hunza, Gilgit, Kabul, Khurram, Tochi, Gomal, Viboa, SangarKnown as Singi Khamban (Lion’s Mouth)   In India, it flows only in Jammu & Kashmir state    
JHELUMVerinag, J & KR. Chenab (in Pakistan)Right: Neelum, SindIt passes through Srinagar and Wular Lake
CHENABTandi, Himachal Pradesh (formed by two rivers Chandra and Bhaga)R. Indus (in Pakistan)Right: Marusadar riverIt is also called as Chandrabhaga   It is the largest tributary of river Indus
RAVIRohtang Pass, Himachal PradeshR. Chenab 
SUTLEJRaksas Tal, near Mansarovar, TibetR. Chenab, PakistanLeft: Baspa   Right: Spiti, BeasIt is known as Langchen Khambab in its source place.   It enters India through Shipki La pass   Bhakra Nangal Project is constructed across this river
BEASBeas Kund, near Rohtang pass, Himachal PradeshR. Sutlej 
GANGAConfluence of R. Bhagirathi and R. Alaknanda at DevPrayagSagar Island, Bay of Bengal (Bangladesh)Left: Ramganga, Gomati, Gandak, Kosi, Ghaghara, Mahananda   Right: Yamuna, Son, Chambal, BetwaGanga is India’s largest river system
YAMUNAYamunotri GlacierR. Ganga, Allahabad (UP)Left: Rishiganga   Right: Chambal, Betwa, Ken, SindIt is the longest tributary of Ganga river
CHAMBALMhow, Malwa plateauR. Yamuna, Madhya PradeshLeft: Banas Right: Parbati, ShipraBadland topography is an important feature of the Chambal river system
GANDAKMustang, NepalR. Ganga, Sonpur, BiharLeft: Trisuli   Right: Kali Gandak 
GHAGHARAMapchachungo, TibetR. Ganga, BiharLeft: Rapti   Right: Sarda, Budhi Ganga 
KOSITribenighat, NepalR. Ganga, BiharIt is an antecedent trans-boundary river
RAMGANGAPauri Garhwal, UttarakhandR. Ganga, Uttar Pradesh 
SONAmarkantak PlateauR. Ganga, Bihar (near Patna)It flows northwards to reach Ganga and its largest south bank tributary
MAHANANDADarjeeling HillsR. Ganga, West BengalLast left bank tributary of Ganga

PENINSULAR Drainage System

Mahanadi

The Mahanadi in East-central India is a significant river. It originates in Chhattisgarh’s Sihava hills and flows through the state of Orissa (Odisha) through its main course. This river deposits more silt on the Indian subcontinent than any other river. Mahanadi runs through Sambalpur, Cuttack and Banki cities.

Godavari

The Godavari River, after the Ganga, covers India’s second-longest course. The river originates from Triambakeshwar in Maharashtra and flows along with its tributaries (Pravara, Indravati, Maner Sabri etc.) through the countries of Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa (Odisha), Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Puducherry to lastly flow into the Bay of Bengal. The river is defined as Dakshina Ganga because of its lengthy course.

Krishna River

The Krishna is India’s third-longest river, about 1300 km long. It originates from the Mahabaleshwar region of Maharashtra and flows through Karnataka, Telangana, and Andhra Pradesh to lastly pour into Bengal Bay. 

Kaveri River

The Kaveri (Cauvery) is a significant river in southern India and originates in Kogadu, Karnataka.

As many tributaries like Hemavati, Moyari, Shimsha, Arkavati, Honnuhole, Kabini, Bhavani, Noyill and Amaravati join it, Kaveri River expands.

Narmada and Tapti

The Narmada & Tapti river is the only major flowing rivers into the Arab Sea. Narmada’s complete length flowing through Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, and Gujarat countries is equal to 1312 km. Amarkantak is Narmada’s location of origin in Shahdol, Madhya Pradesh. From east to west, Narmada flows primarily through Central India and flows into the Arabian Sea.

The Tapti river follows a parallel course to the south of Narmada, flowing through the Maharashtra and Gujarat states on their way into the Gulf of Khambat. Purna, Girna and Panjhra are its three main tributaries.

Like most ancient religions, rivers are considered sacred by the Hindu faith and its mythology. The Ganges, Yamuna (a Ganges tributary), Brahmaputra, Mahanadi, Narmada, Godavari, Tapi, Krishna, and Kaveri are nine major Indian rivers. Indian soil also flows through parts of the Indus River.

The Drainage System of India comprises eight important rivers together with their various tributaries. Most rivers discharge their waters into the Bay of Bengal; nevertheless, there are a number of rivers whose itineraries take them across the west end of India and into the Arab Sea in the east direction.

Northern parts of the Aravalli range, Ladakh parts, and the barren Thar Desert regions have Inland Drainage.

Rivers of India

Important Drainage System of PENINSULAR India

PENINSULAR RIVERSOURCEMOUTHTRIBUTARIESDESCRIPTION
MAHANADISihawa, ChattisgarhBay of Bengal (False Point, Odisha)Left: Seonath, Mand, Ib   Right: Ong, Jonk, TelenMaharashtra, Chattisgarh, Jharkhand, Odisha are its basin states
GODAVARIBrahmagiri Hills, Nasik, MaharashtraBay of Bengal, Andhra Pradesh (East Godavari district)Left: Prahnita, Indravati   Right: Manjira, Pravara, ManairIt is called as Dakshin Ganga as this river is the largest Peninsular River
KRISHNAMahabaleshwar, MaharashtraKrishna district, Andhra Pradesh, Bay of BengalLeft: Bhima, Musi, Munneru   Right: Tungabhadra, Koyna, Dudhganga, Ghataprabha 
CAUVERYBrahmagiri Hills, KarnatakaPoompuhar, Tamil Nadu, Bay of BengalLeft: Hemavathi, Arkavathy   Right: Kabini, Bhavani, Noyyal, AmaravatiThis river receives rainfall from both south-west and north-east monsoon
NARMADAAmarkantak Hills, Madhya PradeshGulf of Khambat, Arabian SeaLeft:  Tawa, Shakkar   Right: Hiran, Kolar, DindoriKnown for Marble Rocks (Jabalpur, MP) and falls   West flowing river and flows through a rift valley
TAPIBetul District, Madhya PradeshGulf of Khambat, Surat, Arabian SeaWest flowing river

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