Drainage system  of India  is mainly controlled by the broad relief features of the topography. The river and its tributaries form a river system or drainage system. The areas drained by a single river system is called a drainage basin.
Drainage system of India
Indian Rivers
The drainage system of India or River system in India is divided on the basis of mode of origin, nature and characteristics into two major groups:
1. Himalayan drainage system or Himalayan rivers system
2. Peninsular drainage system or Peninsular rivers system
Difference between Himalayan and Peninsular rivers:
Sr. No.
Himalayan Rivers
Peninsular Rivers
Himalayan rivers  receive water from melted snow capped mountains as well as water from rain.
Peninsular Rivers are mainly dependent on rainfall
River courses of Himalayan rivers have long from source to the sea.
Peninsular Rivers have shorter courses as compared to Himalayan rivers.
Most of the rivers are Perennial.
 Most of rivers are seasonal
Upper course of Himalayan rivers perform intensive erosional activity in their upper courses.
Peninsular rivers are shallower in their upper course.
Rivers form well developed deltas.
Rivers do not form well developed deltas.

Himalayan rivers: 

The Himalayan rivers originating from the Himalayan and trans Himalayan range. The Himalayan rivers system consists of mainly three river system which are the major rivers of India:
(A) The Indus river system
(B) The Ganga river system
(C) The Brahmaputra river system

(A) The Indus river system: 

The Indus river system consists of the Indus river and its tributaries.

River Indus:

  •  Indus river originating from the Bokhar Chu glacier near east of  Mansarovar lake  in the northern slopes of mount Kailash.
  •  It is the westernmost river system in the subcontinent. 
  • The Indus river in Tibet is known as “Singi Khamban '' (lion’s mouth). 
  • The Indus river drains the largest number of glaciers of Himalayas, Karakoram, Ladakh and Zanskar ranges. 
  • In India, Indus river enters into india through ladakh joins by rivers Suru, Nubra, Zanskar and Shoyak etc. the Indus river enters into Pakistan through a gorge of Nanga Parvat. 
  • The tributaries of the Indus river are the Jhelum, Chenab,Ravi,Beas and Sutlej. These five rivers are joined together and meet river Indus in Mithankot in Pakistan.
  •  Indus river empties in Arbian sea in east of Karachi in Pakistan.  
  • The Indus river length is about 2900 km. 
  • One third river basin located in Jammu & Kashmir, Punjab and Haryana in India, rest part in Pakistan.

Indus river tributaries:

River Sutlej: 

  1. Sutlej river originating from Rakas lakes in Mansarovar in Tibet.
  2.   Sutlej river enters India through Shipki La Pass in Himachal Pradesh. 
  3. Sutlej river with other rivers (the Jhelum, Chenab,Ravi,Beas) develops the canal irrigation system throughout  Punjab and Haryana.
  4.  The name of state Punjab also referred to the region of five rivers.

River Chenab:

  •  The Chenab river originating from BaraLacha Pass in Lahaul district of Himachal Pradesh. 
  • There are two main source tributaries: the Chandra and Bhaga when these water sources combined in flow known as the Chenab river.

River Jhelum:

  •  The river Jhelum originating from Verinag in south of Srinagar, Jammu & Kashmir. The river joins Wular lake.

River Ravi: 

  • The river Ravi originates from kullu hills near the Rohtang Pass in Himachal Pradesh and drains in Pir Panjal and Dhauladhar.

River Beas:     

  • It originates from the Rohtang Pass and it is the only river in Indus drainage system which flows entirely in Indian territory.

Indus Water Treaty: 

  • The Indus Water Treaty is a treaty between India and Pakistan, signed in 1960 in the presence of the World Bank.
  •  The treaty explains the utilization of water of the river Indus and its tributaries rivers. 
  • According to the treaty, the river Beas, Ravi and Sutlej are to be governed by the Indian government and rest of rivers in Indus river systems governed by the Pakistan government.
  •  India uses only 20% water of the Indus river for irrigation, power generation and transport purposes. 
  • It is considered the most successful treaty of the world after many wars held between two countries.

The Ganga river systems:

 Ganga river: 

  • Ganga river is the main river of the Ganga river systems. 
  • The Ganga river originates from the Gangotri glacier in Uttarakhand. When it originates from the Gangotri glacier and river is  known as Bhagirathi.  
  • Another river Alaknanda which is also originating from Uttrakhand, joins the Bhagirathi at Devprayag in Uttarakhand and is known as the Ganga river. 
  • The Ganga river enters into plains in Rishikesh Uttarakhand. It joins the river Yamuna in Prayagraj in Uttar Pradesh. 
  •  It bifurcates Farakka into Bhagirathi-Hugli in West Bengal and Padma in Bangladesh.
  • The mainstream flows southwards into Bangladesh and is joined by the river Brahmaputra. 
  • The further downwards stream is known as the Meghna.
  •  The total length of the river is over 2550 km. 
  • The Ganga river with the river Brahmaputra made up the largest delta in the world in arcuate shaped delta approximately 400 km long. 
  • The delta is made up of islands, forests and distributaries called “Sundarbans' '. The Sundarbans delta consists of dense forest and it is a famous region of pneumatophores plants and Bengal tigers.
  • The Ganga river is the largest river in India and also the longest river of India.
  •  The Ganga river has the largest river basin in India.

The tributaries of river Ganga:

River Yamuna:

  •  Yamuna river is the main and the largest tributary of the Ganga river.
  •  Yamuna river originates from the Yamunotri glacier in Uttarakhand. 
  • River Yamuna Flows through Himachal Pradesh, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and joins river Ganga in Prayagraj in Uttar Pradesh. Chambal, Tons, Sind, Betwa and Ken are the main tributaries of river Yamuna.

River Chambal: 

  • Chambal river is the main tributary of river Yamuna.  Chambal river originates from Mhow in Vindhya range in Madhya Pradesh. 
  • The  Chambal river made badland topography and numerous river ravines in the Chambal river basin.

River Gandak: 

  • Gandak river originates near the Tibet-Nepal border and joins the river Ganga at Hajipur , Patna in Bihar state.

River Son:

  • Son river originates from Amarkantak plateau in Madhya Pradesh and is a part of the Ganga river system which joins the river Ganga at Patna.
  •  North Koel, Johilla, Gopad etc are important tributaries of river Son.

River Damodar: 

  • Damodar river originates from the eastern part of Chhota Nagpur plateau in Jharkhand and a part of the Ganga river system which flows in the rift valley and meets the river Hugli at Falta in West Bengal.
  •  It is also known as the “Sorrow of Bengal''.

River kali: 

  • River Kali originates from the Nepal Himalayas and known as “Sarda” when it reaches into the plains.

River Ghaghra:

  •  Ghaghra river originates near the Gurla Mandhata peak in south of Mansarovar lake in Tibet and known as “Karnaili” in Nepal.

River Kosi:

  •  Kosi river originates from Tribeni ghat in Nepal.
  • The river Kosi consists of the seven streams known as Saptakoshi. 
  • The river is frequently changing its course which causes the devastating flood in Bihar so that it is called “Sorrow of Bihar ''.

River Ramganga: 

  • Ramganga river originates from the Garhwal district of Uttarakhand.

The Brahmaputra river system:

Brahmaputra river: 

  • Brahmaputra river is the main river of the Brahmaputra river system. 
  • The Brahmaputra river originates from the Chemayungdung glacier in Kailash range of Himalayas. 

  • River Brahmaputra is known as Tsangpo in Tibet, Yarlung Zangbo in Chinese and  called Jamuna in Bangladesh. 
  • River takes U turns and  It enters India through a gorge in Namche Barwa mountains in Arunachal Pradesh known  as the Dihang.
  •  Upper part of river Brhamaputra in Tibet has very low amounts of water and silt but when entered into India receives more water through rainfall. 
  • The Brahmaputra river has a braided channel. During monsoon season, the river Brahmaputra carries an enormous amount of water and silts which causes the disastrous floods in Assam
  • Brahmaputra river forms the Sundarbans delta with Ganga river. It enters Bangladesh and joins the river Tista; it is known as Jamuna. 
  • The Jamuna and Ganga river confluence at Goalundo and is known as Padma. 
  • The Padma river is joined by river Meghna and finally merges in Bay of Bengal. 
  • Brahmaputra river tributaries are the Subansiri, the Dhansiri,the  Manas, the Tista, the Dibru, the Dihing,the  Dhansiri. 
  • Majuli is the largest riverine island in the world and located in Assam. The total length of Brahmaputra river is 2900 km.

Peninsular drainage system:

  •  Peninsular drainage system is different from the Himalayan drainage system because peninsular India has older drainage systems from Himalayan drainage system. 
  • The drainage system of peninsular India has broad and shallow valley, mature phase of river system, low gradient and carries low amount of water the whole year except Monsoon. 
  • The Peninsular drainage system or Peninsular rivers in India is divided into two parts one is East flowing rivers and another is West flowing river on the basis of flow of rivers.

The East flowing rivers in India:

River Godavari: 

  • Godavari river originates from Tryambak plateau in slope of Western ghat at Nashik district of Maharashtra. 
  • Godavari river is also known as “ Dakshin Ganga'' or “ South of Ganga”.
  •  The Godavari river is the largest river system of Peninsular India. 
  • The total length of Godavari river is about 1500 km.
  • The basin of river Godavari covers Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa and Andhra Pradesh. 
  • The river splits into several tributaries before merging into Bay of Bengal where it is made lobate shaping Delta. 

  • The tributaries of Godavari river are the Penganga, Wainganga, Wardha, Indravati and Manjra rivers.                                                    River Mahanadi:

  •  Mahanadi originates from saucer shaped Chattisgarh Plains and merges into the Bay of Bengal. 
  • The total length of Mahanadi river is about 860 km.
  • The basin of River Mahanadi covers Chhattisgarh, Orissa, ,Maharashtra and Jharkhand.
  • The Ib, Hasdo, Sondur etc are some important tributaries of Mahanadi river.

River Krishna: 

  • The  Krishna river originates from Mahabaleshwar in western ghat and is the second largest river of Peninsular India.
  •  The total length of  Krishna river is about 1400 km. The basin of River Krishna covers Maharashtra, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh..
  •  The Koyna, Tungabhadra, Musi, Ghatprabha, Bhima and Nagarujansagar rivers are main Krishna river tributaries.

River Kaveri: 

  • The  Kaveri river  originates from the Talkaveri in Brahmagiri hills of Western Ghat located in Coorg plateau of Karnataka. 
  • The total length of Kaveri river is about 760 km. The basin of River Kaveri covers Karnataka, Kerala and Tamilnadu.
  •  The Kaveri river receives rainfall in two different monsoon periods. The upper part of river Kaveri receives rainfall from the Summer Monsoon known as the South West Monsoon and lower part of Kaveri river receives the rainfall in the winter Monsoon known as North-East monsoon.
  • Sivasamudram waterfall is situated in the river Kaveri and it forms the quadrilateral delta in the Bay of Bengal. 
  • The river Brahmani, Subarnarekha, Penneru and Vaigai are the main tributaries of river Kaveri.

The west flowing rivers in india:

River Narmada: 

  • Narmada river originates from Amarkantak hills in Shahdol district of Madhya Pradesh and flows in the rift valley between the Vindhya range and Satpura range in westwards direction due to faulting. 
  • Narmada river is the largest west flowing river.
  • Famous Dhuandhar falls near Jabalpur marble rocks in Madhya Pradesh are present in River narmada. 
  • River Narmada has many islands in the estuary of river Narmada in which Aliabet is the largest. 
  • Hiran river is the main tributary of river Nardama.
  • Narmada basin covers parts of Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat.

River Tapi: 

  • Tapi river is second river which flows in rift valley parallel to Narmada river in westward direction and originates from the Satpura Plateau in Betul district of Madhya Pradesh.
  •  River Tapi enters into the Arabian sea through an estuary.  
  • Tapi river basin covers parts of Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat.

Sabarmati river: 

  • The  Sabarmati river is formed from a combination of two streams , one is Sabar and another is Hathmati, and originates from the hills of Mewar in the Aravalli range. 
  • River Sabarmati is empty in the Gulf of Khambhat.

Mahi river: 

  • Mahi river originates from the Vindhya range and is empty in the Gulf of Khambhat.
Difference between West flowing rivers and East flowing rivers of peninsular India:
Sr. No.
The West flowing rivers of peninsular India
The East flowing rivers of peninsular India
The rivers flows into Arbian sea
The rivers flow into the Bay of Bengal.
Rivers don't have any extensive network of tributaries.
 Rivers have any extensive network of tributaries.
Rivers are geologically young and have small catchment areas.
Rivers are geologically old and have large catchment areas.
Valley floors are above sea level.
Valley floors are at the sea level.
Rivers form estuaries at their mouth.
Rivers form deltas at their mouth.

Importance of Rivers in India:


  • Indian crops depend on rainfall only 45 % but rest of time, irrigation from canal systems which carry water from rivers helps the irrigation need of water in India. 
  • In Punjab, Haryana and westren Uttar Pradesh made a well developed canal irrigation system in India and took part in the Green revolution.


  •  India has great potential to generate hydroelectricity from indian rivers. 
  • The major rivers of India such as Ganga, Brahmpurta, Godavari and Krishna etc helps to generate electricity through Dams.


  • India has approximately 14000 kms length of navigable rivers. The most important navigable rivers are the Ganga, the Brahmaputra and the Mahanadi.

Water supply: 

  • water supply from rivers to industries purpose, agriculture activities and drinking water etc.


  •  The production of fisheries in India comes from the inland fisheries to which rivers, its canal and reservoirs contribute the most.

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