Indian River System

13 Jan 2023  Read 10004 Views

We owe our very own existence to our rivers. Undoubtedly, rivers are the lifeline of our country. It owes a divine status in Indian history; even great civilizations such as Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa were born along rivers. So, early river-valley civilisations included the Indus Valley Civilisation (Harappan civilization), Ancient Egypt (the Nile), Mesopotamia (along the Tigris & Euphrates rivers) etc. Rivers also have great significance in the economic development of our country. This article discusses the river systems in India, which form an important part of various competitive exams. So, let’s get started.  

Major Rivers of India

  1. Indus River System
  2. Brahmaputra River System
  3. Ganga River System
  4. Yamuna River System
  5. Narmada River System
  6. Tapti River System
  7. Godavari River System
  8. Krishna River System
  9. Cauveri River System
  10. Mahanadi River System

What are the three main river systems?

The major rivers of India (mentioned above) have a primary classification based on their geographical initiation (the source of these rivers). So, the three categories of the rivers are as follows:

  • Himalayan Rivers of India
  • Peninsular Rivers of India
  • Coastal Rivers of India

The major rivers of India have a primary classification based on their geographical initiation. So, the three categories of the rivers are as follows:  Himalayan Rivers of India, Peninsular Rivers of India, Coastal Rivers of India

If you want to read about Water Disputes in India, then click on the link.

Himalayan Rivers of India

The Himalayan river system, as the name conveys, constitutes the rivers which directly touch the Himalayan mountains during their course of flow, such as the Indus, Ganga and Brahmaputra. Geographical historians believe that these valleys resulted from drastic Himalayan uplifting, and these three rivers form a large basin with surrounding precipitous rocks. The Himalayan rivers are perennial as their freshwater constitutes both the melting of the ice caps & the rainfall. The areas surrounding these rivers are mostly plain, which is easy to navigate, and this system's water also generates hydroelectricity. Now, let’s discuss what this includes:

1. The Indus River System

  • The Indus starts from the northern slopes of the Kailash range in Tibet near Lake Mansarovar. It has many tributaries in both India and Pakistan.
  • It has a total length of about 2897 km from the source (start) to a point near Karachi where it meets the Arabian Sea (end) & from this 2897km, approx 700km lies in India.
  • It forms part of the Indian Territory in Jammu and Kashmir by forming a picturesque gorge.
  • It joins with many tributaries in Kashmir– the Zanskar, the Shyok, the Nubra, and the Hunza.
  • In India, it flows between the Ladakh Range and the Zanskar Range at Leh in Jammu & Kashmir.
  • It crosses the Himalayas through a 5181-m deep gorge near Attock, which lies north of Nanga Parbat.
  • Now, let’s discuss the main tributaries ( a small river that flows into a larger river, meaning these tributaries, in the end, will meet the Indus River) of the Indus River in India: 

Tributaries of the Indus River

a. Chenab

Chenab, also known as Chandrabhaga in Himachal Pradesh, is a blend of two small rivers, Chandra and Bhanga; it runs parallel to the Pir Bhangar mountains. The river flows through Punjab and further merges with Jhelum.

b. Jhelum

This tributary originates in Southern Kashmir. From there, it flows into the Wular Lake & later cuts through the Pir Banjar ranges. Its course of flow is mainly the Indo-Pak border before merging with Chenab.

c. Satluj

This originates in the Rakka Lake, which flows from Tibet and later runs north-west. It enters Himachal Pradesh at the Shipki pass. With a total length of 1500 km, it cuts a deep gorge (a narrow valley with steep sides & a river flowing through it) in Naina Devi Dhar, situated in Punjab. This is the point of Bhakra Nangal Dam, one of the largest hydropower dams in our country.

d. Ravi

This tributary originates in the Rohtang Pass in the Kangra Valley & flows along the Indo-Pak border. Following a northwest flow course, the river passes through Dalhousie in Himachal Pradesh, cutting deep gorges (a narrow valley with steep, rocky walls located between hills or mountains) at Dhauladhar hills. It has a total length of 720 km, which joins with Chenab before entering Pakistan.

e. Beas

Originating in Beas Kunj and running across two Himachal districts, Kullu and Manali. The river enters the Punjab plain near the Mirthal region & has a total length of 615 km.

2. The Brahmaputra River System

  • The Brahmaputra also originates from Mansarovar Lake, which is 3848 km long, slightly longer than the Indus River. It is also known as the Dihang River & Tsangpo in Tibet
  • Most of its parts lie outside India.
  • This tributary flows parallel to the Himalayas in the east direction. When it arrives at Namcha Barwa, it takes a U-turn around it and enters India in the state of Arunachal Pradesh.
  • It flows through the states of Arunachal Pradesh & Assam, which are connected by many tributaries.

This river is considered one of the largest rivers in India with respect to volume. It receives less volume of water & has fewer deposits in the Tibet region. But in India, the river passes through a region of heavy precipitation, so the river carries large amounts of water during rainfall and more deposits. Also famous for creating calamities in Assam and Bangladesh.

3. The Ganga River System

  • The Ganga originates as the Bhagirathi from the Gangotri glacier. It is an amalgamation of two rivers- Alaknanda & Bhagirathi.
  • Devprayag in the Garhwal division is where Alaknanda and Bhagirathi's rivers meet & take the name Ganga or Ganges River. 
  • So, prior to its reach at Devprayag, rivers such as Mandakini, Pindar, Dhauliganga & Bishenganga merge into the Alaknanda (these form the panch prayag) and on the other hand, the Bheling drain merges into the Bhagirathi.
  • The Pindar River rises from East Trishul & Nanda Devi unites with the Alaknanda at Karan Prayag. The Mandakini meets at Rudraprayag.

Panch Prayag at Uttarakhand

  1. Vishnuprayag: where the river Alaknanda meets river Dhauliganga
  2. Nandprayag: where river Alaknanda meets river Nandakini
  3. Karnaprayag: where river Alaknanda meets river Pindar
  4. Rudraprayag: where river Alaknanda meets river Mandakini
  5. Devprayag: where river Alaknanda meets river Bhagirathi - Hence, the Ganga river.

Tributaries of Ganga river

  1. The major tributaries are Yamuna, Damodar, Sapta Kosi, Ram Ganga, Gomati, Ghaghara, and Son (these rivers ultimately end at Ganga). 
  2. Ultimately, the river drains into the Bay of Bengal after covering a distance of 2525 km from its source.

4. The Yamuna River System

  • The Yamuna River is the largest tributary of the Ganga River. (meets Ganga in the end)
  • This river originates from the Yamunotri glacier at the Bandarpoonch peak in Uttarakhand.
  • The catchment of this river extends to Delhi, Himachal Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Rajasthan, & Madhya Pradesh.

Tributaries of Yamuna river

The largest tributary of the Yamuna is Tons. The main tributaries of this river system are the Sin, Hindon, Betwa Ken, & Chambal. (these end at Yamuna River)

Peninsular Rivers of India

The peninsular rivers are the rivers which originate from the peninsular plateaus and hills of India. Most of them have their source within the Western Ghats and flow towards the Bay of Bengal, where they end. The peninsular rivers are non-perennial rivers, meaning that they do not flow for a whole year rather, it has the maximum flow in the rainy season. Peninsular rivers are seasonal, and the flow of the rivers depends on rainfall. Broad & shallow U-shaped valleys characterize them. The Western Ghats creates the main water divide in peninsular rivers. 

1. The Narmada River System

  • The Narmada River is situated in central India and rises to the summit of the Amarkantak Hill in the state of Madhya Pradesh.
  • It outlines the traditional border between North India and South India.
  • It is one of the major rivers of peninsular India & just the Narmada, the Tapti, and the Mahi rivers run from east to west.
  • This river runs through the states of Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, and Maharashtra.
  • It ultimately drains into the Arabian Sea in the Bharuch district of Gujarat.

2. The Tapti River System

  • It is a central Indian river. As discussed earlier, it is one of the most important rivers of peninsular India running from east to west.
  • This river system originates in the Eastern Satpura Range of the southern state of Madhya Pradesh.
  • It flows from east to west, draining a few significant historic places such as Madhya Pradesh’s Nimar region, East Vidarbha region & Maharashtra’s Khandesh in the northwest corner of the Deccan Plateau and South Gujarat & it ultimately drains into the Gulf of Cambay of the Arabian Sea.
  • The River Basin of the Tapti River lies mostly in the eastern and northern districts of Maharashtra & this river also covers a few districts of Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat.
  • The principal tributaries of Tapti River are Waghur River, Aner River, Girna River, Purna River, Panzara River & Bori River.

3. The Godavari River System

  • The Godavari River is the second-longest course with brownish water in India.
  • This river originates from Trimbakeshwar, near Nasik in Maharashtra.
  • This is also known as the Dakshin (South) Ganga or Vriddh (Old) Ganga, which is a seasonal river that is dried during the summers and vice versa during the monsoons.
  • It flows southeast across south-central India via Madhya Pradesh, Telangana, Orissa, and Andhra Pradesh; it finally drains into the Bay of Bengal. This river forms a fertile delta at Rajahmundry.

[Delta refers to an area of flat land shaped like a triangle where a river divides into smaller rivers as it goes into the sea]

  • Many pilgrimage sites, such as Nasik(MH), Bhadrachalam(TS), and Trimbak, are located at the banks of this river. Some of its tributaries are composed of Pranahita (A combination of Penuganga and Warda), Bindusara, Sabari, 
  • Indravati River, and Manjira.
  • Asia’s largest rail-cum-road bridge that links Kovvur and Rajahmundry is built on the river Godavari.

4. The Krishna River System

  • The Krishna River is one of the longest rivers in India; originating from Mahabaleshwar in Maharashtra & it flows through Sangli, which ultimately drains into the Bay of Bengal.
  • In short, the river flows through the states of Maharashtra, Karnataka, Telangana and Andhra Pradesh.
  • The main tributary of this river is the Tungabhadra River, which is formed by the Tunga and Bhadra rivers originating in the Western Ghats.
  • Other tributaries include Dudhganga Rivers, Koyna, Bhima, Mallaprabha, Dindi, Ghataprabha, Warna, Yerla, & Musi. 

5. The Kaveri (Cauvery) River System

  • Originates from Talakaveri in the Western Ghats, which is a renowned pilgrimage and tourist place in the Kodagu district of Karnataka.
  • The river sources are in the Western Ghats range of Karnataka & through Tamil Nadu. It facilitates irrigation for agriculture, and it is also said to be a support system for the ancient kingdoms and modern cities of South India.
  • This river system ultimately drains into the Bay of Bengal. 
  • The major tributaries of this river are Arkavathy, Shimsha, Amaravati, Hemavati, Kapila, Shimsha, Honnuhole, Lakshmana Kabini, Lokapavani, Bhavani, Noyyal, and Tirtha.

6. The Mahanadi River System

  • This river originates from the Satpura Range of central India, & it is a river in eastern India.
  • The Mahanadi River flows from the east and drains into the Bay of Bengal. It flows from the states of Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, and Orissa.
  • The Hirakud Dam, which is the largest dam is built on the river.

Coastal Rivers of India

Mostly, the coastal rivers of India are comparatively small to those in the Himalayan and Peninsular belts. These rivers surface around the eastern and western coasts of India. There are approximately 600 or more small rivers and streams in the western coastal plain and they don’t carry heavy deposits or sand sedimentations. Mainly, their flow never takes them into the main sea, unlike the rest belts.

A few coastal rivers either drain into salt lakes or disappear in the deserts during their flow. Examples of coastal rivers are Luni, Machu, Rupen, Banas, Saraswati, and Ghagar. Each of these rivers cannot make a successful outlet to the territorial seas in the end.


These ten form the major river systems of India. Rivers are an essential source of water and electricity to us; therefore, it is the duty of each and every citizen to maintain its sanctity & support the government in major cleaning action plans such as the Ganga Action Plan of 1986. In short, the river conservation & the maintenance of their hygiene and sanitation is our prime responsibility. 

About the Author: Kakoli Nath | 275 Post(s)

She is a Legal Content Manager at Finology Legal! With a Masters in Intellectual Property Rights (IPR), a BBA.LL.B from ITM University, and patent analyst training from IIPTA, she truly specializes in her field. Her passion for IPR and Criminal laws is evident from her advanced certification in Forensic Psychology and Criminal Profiling from IFS, Pune.

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