The River System Of India: Drainage System Part-II - Frontier IAS
Baljit Dhaka
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The River System Of India: Drainage System Part-II

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The River System Of India: Drainage System Part-2 |Geography

In this article, we will discuss the river system of India which is a very Important Topic in the Geography section for all civil services exam purposes. Indian drainage system consists of a large number of small and big rivers. It is the outcome of the evolutionary process of the three major physiographic units and the nature and characteristics of precipitation. 

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Classification of Drainage system:

Classification of drainage system can be done on various basis:

  1. On the basis of orientation towards the sea
  2. On the basis of size of watershed
  3. On the basis of mode of origin nature and characteristics 

On the basis of orientation towards the sea:

The Bay of Bengal drainage:

  • Rivers that drain into Bay of Bengal
  • East flowing rivers.
  • 77 per cent of the drainage area of the country consisting The Ganga, the Brahmaputra, the Mahanadi, the Godavari, the Krishna, oriented towards the Bay of Bengal.

Arabian sea drainage: 

  • Rivers that drain into Arabian sea
  • West flowing rivers.
  • 23 per cent of the drainage area of the country consisting The Indus, the Narmada, the Tapi, etc is oriented towards the Arabian sea.

 On the basis of size of watershed:

1.Major river basins 

  • with > 20000 sq km. of catchment area.
  • Includes 14 drainage basins such as Ganga, Brahmaputra, Krishna, Tapi Narmada etc
  1. Medium river basins
  • with catchment area between 2000 to 20000 sq km.
  • Incorporating 44 river basins such as Kalindi,Periyar,Meghna etc
  1. Minor river basins
  • with catchment area <2000 sq km
  • Include fairly good number of rivers flowing in the area of low rainfall.

On the basis of mode of origin:

  • It is the most accepted basis of classification 
  • The Himalayan Rivers: Perennial rivers: the Indus, the Ganga, the Brahmaputra and their tributaries.

The Peninsular Rivers: Non-Perennial rivers: the Mahanadi, the Godavari, the Krishna, the Kaveri, the Narmada and the Tapi and their tributaries.

Himalayan Drainage:

  • It has evolved through a long geological history.
  • Fed both by melting of a snow and precipitation of perennial rivers
  • Basins of Himalayan rivers are very large
  • It mainly has the perennial rivers,young rivers with erosional activities.
  • They have cut through the mountains making Gorges (A Gorge is a narrow valley between hills or mountains, typically with steep rocky walls and a stream running through it).

Himalayan Rivers:

  • Have long courses from their source to the sea
  • They perform intensive erosional activity in their upper courses and carry huge loads of silt and sand in the middle and the lower courses.
  • These rivers form meanders, oxbow lakes and many other depositional features in their floodplains.
  • They also have well developed deltas. Sunderban Delta is the largest delta in the world.
  • It mainly includes the Indus, the Ganga and the Brahmaputra river basins.

Indus river system

  • One of the largest river basins of the  world.
  • Also known as the Sindhu 
  • Westernmost of the Himalayan rivers in India.
  • Covers an area of 11,65,000 sq km and total length- 2880 km/In India, area-321,289 sq km, length-1114 km.
  • Indus rises from a glacier near Bokhar Chu in the Tibetan region in the Kailash mountain range
  • It is known as Singri Khamban or Lion’s Mouth in Tibet.

  • Flowing west, it enters India in the Ladakh district of Jammu and Kashmir.
  • Cuts across the Ladakh range forming a spectacular gorge near Gilgit  in Jammu and Kashmir.
  • Enters into Pakistan near Chillar in the Dardistan region
  • This system includes the Indus and its tributaries.
  • Important tributaries of Indus river are the Jhelum, the Chenab, the Ravi, the Beas and the Sutlej.

Tributaries of Indus river:


  • Originate from a spring at Verinag in the Pir Panjal range.
  • flows through Srinagar and the Wular Lake before entering Pakistan through a deep narrow gorge.
  • Joins Chenab near Jhang in Pakistan. 


  • Largest tributary of Indus.
  • It is also known as Chandrabhaga because it is formed by two streams the Chandra and Bhaga which join at Tandi near Keylong in Himachal Pradesh.


  • Rises west of the Rohtang Pass in the Kullu Hills of Himachal Pradesh.
  • Flows through the Chamba Valley.
  • Joins the Chenab near Sarai Sindhu
  • It drains the area lying between the southern Eastern part of the Pir Panjal and the Dhauladhar ranges.



  • Originates from the Beas Kund near the Rohtang Pass.
  • Flows through the Kullu valley and forms Gorges at Kati and Largi in the Dhauladhar range.
  • Meets the Sutlej near Harike


  • Originates in the lake near Mansarovar in Tibet 
  • known as Langchen Khambab in Tibet.
  • Flows almost parallel to the Indus for about 400 km before entering India and comes out of a gorge at Rupar.
  • These five rivers namely the Satluj, the Beas, the Ravi, the Chenab, and the Jhelum are collectively known as the “Panjnad”.
  • The Other important  tributaries of Indus are the Shyok the Gilgit the Zaskar, the Nubra etc.

The Ganga river system:

  • Rises in Gangotri Glacier near Gomukh in Uttarkashi district of Uttarakhand, where it is known as Bhagirathi.
  • Total length- 2525 km
  • Ganga basin covers 8.6 lakh sq km in India alone.
  • Largest river system in India.
  • Shared by Uttarakhand (110 km), UP (1450 km), Bihar (445 km)and West Bengal (520 km).
  • Ganga is combined stream of Bhagirathi and Alaknanda, which meet near Devprayag.

  • After meeting at Devprayag,  it is known as the Ganga.
  • The Alaknanda consists of the Dhauli and the Vishnu Ganga which meet at Vishnuprayag.
  • Tributaries from the mainland are  the Son, and the Damodar.
  • Tributaries from Himalayas are the Yamuna, the Ramganga, the Gandak, the Ghaggar, the Gomti etc.
  • Ganga enters Bangladesh after flowing southeastward after Farakka and it is called Padma here.
  • Brahmaputra and padma collectively known as Meghna.
  • Then it drains into Bay of Bengal after being divided into distributaries.
  • Hughli is the main distributary of Ganga river and Kolkata is located on its banks
  • Sunderban delta is located in Ganga Brahmaputra basin which is the largest delta in the world.

Tributaries of the Ganga:

1. The Yamuna-

  • Originates from Yamunotri glacier
  • Longest and westernmost tributary of Ganga
  • It flows parallel to Ganga and meets the Ganga in Allahabad at Sangam.
  • Right bank tributaries The Chambal, the Sind, the Betwa, the Ken.
  • Left bank tributaries The Hindan, the Sengar, and the Varuna.

2. The Chambal:

  • Rises near Mhow in Malwa plateau of Madhya Pradesh 
  • The Chambal is famous for its Badland topography called the Chambal ravines

3. The Gandak:

  • Rises in the Nepal Himalayas between the Dhaulagiri and Mount Everest.
  • It comprises two streams namely Kaligandak and Trishulganga.
  • Enters the Ganga plain in Champaran district of Bihar and joins the Ganga at Sonepur near Patna.

4. The Ghagra:

  • Rises in the Glacier of Mapchachungo.
  • Meets Ganga at Chapra

5. The Kosi:

  • Rises in Tibet.
  • After crossing the central Himalayas in Nepal, it joined by the Son Kosi from the west and the Tamur kosi in  the East

6. The Ramganga :

  • Rises in the Garhwal Hills near Gairsain.
  • Enters the plain of Uttar Pradesh near Najibabad and joints Ganga near Kannauj.

7. The Damodar 

  • Flows through a rift Valley and finally drains the Hooghly.
  • known as the “sorrow of Bengal”.

8. The Sarda/The Saryu

  • Rises in the Milam glacier in Nepal Himalayas where it is known as Gori Ganga 
  • Along Indo Nepal border it is called Kali or Chauk, where it joins Ghaghra.

9. The Mahananda 

  • Rises in Darjeeling Hills
  • Joins Ganga as its last left Bank tributary in West Bengal.

The Brahmaputra river system:

  • The Brahmaputra rises from Chemayungdung glacier of Kailash range near the Mansarovar lake 
  • Travels 1200 km eastward in dry and flat region of southern Tibet, known as Tsangpo (the purifier) in Tibet.
  • Slightly longer than the Indus, and most of its course lies outside India
  • It flows eastwards parallel to Himalayas.

  • On reaching Namcha Barwa (7757m), it takes a ‘U’ turn and enters India in west of Sadiya town in Arunachal Pradesh
  • Emerges as a turbulent and dynamic river after coming out of deep gorge near Namcha Barwa,
  •  The river emerges from the foothills under the name of Siang or Dihang.
  • It is joined by the Dibang, the Lohit and many other tributaries to form the Brahmaputra in Assam.
  • 750 km long journey in Assam
  • Enters Bangladesh near Dhubri
  • In Bangladesh Teesta river joins it on the right bank and then it is known as Yamuna.
  • Finally merges with Padma (Ganga) and falls into Bay of Bengal.
  • In Tibet, the river carries a smaller volume of water and silt as it is cold and dry area.
  • In India it passes through a region of high rainfall. Here the river carries large volume of water and considerable amount of silt.

  • The Brahmaputra has a braided channel in its entire length in Assam and forms many riverine islands. Majuli is one of the riverine islands 
  • Every year during rainy season, the river overflows its banks, causing widespread devastation due to floods in Assam and Bangladesh.
  • Major left bank tributaries: Burhi Dihang,Dhansari.
  • Major Right bank tributaries: Subansiri, Kameng, Manas and Sankosh.

  • Unlike other North Indian rivers the Brahmaputra is marked by huge deposits of silt on its bed causing the river bed to rise.
  • The river also shifts its channel frequently.

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