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Drainage System of India- Types of Drainage System

Drainage System of India: The drainage system of India comprises major rivers like the Ganges, Brahmaputra, and Indus, along with their tributaries such as the Yamuna, Godavari, and Narmada. Originating from the Himalayas, these rivers traverse the plains, supporting agriculture, transportation, and ecosystems. The Ganges, Brahmaputra, and Indus hold cultural and historical significance and sustain millions of lives. Tributaries further enhance the drainage network, facilitating irrigation and hydropower generation. Understanding India’s drainage system is crucial for comprehending its environmental and socio-economic dynamics, making it a key topic for UPSC aspirants.

Drainage System of India

Drainage refers to the movement of water through well-defined channels, constituting what is known as a “drainage system.” The configuration of this system within a region is shaped by factors such as geological history, rock formations, terrain slope, topography, water volume, and flow frequency. A drainage basin refers to the land area drained by a single river system, including both the main river and its tributaries. A “water divide” refers to an elevated region, such as a mountain or upland, that separates two distinct drainage basins. Notably, the Amazon River boasts the world’s largest drainage basin, while in India, the Ganga River features the largest basin.

Different Drainage Pattern

  1. Dendritic: This drainage system, resembling the branching pattern of a tree, is known as dendritic. An example is the rivers of the northern plains.
  2. Radial: Originating from a central point, rivers flow outward in all directions, forming a radial drainage pattern. This is observed in rivers originating from the Amarkantak range.
  3. Trellis: In a trellis pattern, primary tributaries of a river flow parallel to each other, while secondary tributaries join them at right angles.
  4. Centripetal: In this pattern, rivers discharge their waters from various directions into a central lake or depression, creating a centripetal drainage system.

Different Drainage System of India

The Indian drainage system is categorized into two based on the direction of water discharge towards the sea: the Arabian Sea drainage and the Bay of Bengal drainage. These systems are separated by geographical features like the Delhi ridge, the Aravallis, and the Sahyadris. Approximately 77% of the drainage flows towards the Bay of Bengal, while the remaining 23% drains into the Arabian Sea.

Furthermore, the Indian drainage can be classified into the Himalayan drainage and the Peninsular drainage based on their origin, nature, and characteristics. Rivers originating from the Himalayas and those from the Peninsular region represent distinct physiographic regions of India and exhibit unique features and behaviour.

Himalayan Rivers

  • Himalayan rivers are mostly perennial, meaning they flow throughout the year, as they receive water from both rainfall and melted snow from the mountains.
  • These rivers carve through giant gorges formed by ongoing erosion during the Himalayan uplift, creating V-shaped valleys, rapids, and waterfalls along their upper courses.
  • As they flow through the plains, Himalayan rivers create meanders, oxbow lakes, and other features due to deposition.
  • The river Kosi, known as the “sorrow of Bihar,” frequently changes its course due to the vast amount of sediment it carries from the mountains.
  • The accumulation of sediment can block the river’s path, prompting it to change course and deposit the sediment in the plains, altering the landscape over time.

Peninsular Rivers

  • The Peninsular drainage system is older than the Himalayan one.
  • Most Peninsular rivers are seasonal, their flow is dependent on regional rainfall.
  • Peninsular rivers generally have shorter and shallower courses compared to Himalayan rivers.
  • With the exception of the Narmada and Tapi, major Peninsular rivers flow towards the Bay of Bengal, predominantly from west to east.
  • Rivers like the Chambal, Sindh, Betwa, Ken, and Son in the northern part of the Peninsula are part of the Ganga river system.
  • Other significant Peninsular rivers include the Mahanadi, Godavari, Krishna, and Kaveri.
  • The Western Ghats serve as a divide, directing major Peninsular rivers towards the Bay of Bengal and smaller streams towards the Arabian Sea.

Himalayan Drainage System

The Indus, Ganga, and Brahmaputra systems constitute the three primary river systems within the Himalayan drainage system.

Indus River

  • Area: The Indus River basin covers a total area of 11,65,000 sq. km, with 3,21,289 sq. km falling within India’s borders.
  • Length: The Indus River stretches for a total length of 2,880 km, of which 1,114 km lie within India.
  • Also known as “Sindhu,” it is the westernmost of the Himalayan rivers in India.
  • Origin and Course: The river originates from a glacier near Bokhar Chu (31°15′ N latitude and 81°41′ E longitude) in the Tibetan region, within the Kailash mountain range, at an altitude of 4,164 m. It flows northwest, entering India in Ladakh (Leh), forming a picturesque gorge in this region.
  • Numerous Himalayan tributaries, including the Shyok, Gilgit, Zaskar, Hunza, and Nubra, join its course. Exiting the mountains at Attock, it merges with the Kabul River on its right bank, then flows southwards. Near Mithankot in Pakistan, it receives the Panjnad, which comprises the Satluj, Beas, Ravi, Chenab, and Jhelum rivers. Finally, the Indus River empties into the Arabian Sea.
  • In Tibet, it is referred to as “Singi Khamban” or “Lion’s mouth.”

Main Tributaries of Indus River

There are main 5 Tributaries of Indus River, check the following provided below.


  • Origin – “Rakas tal” near Mansarovar in Tibet.
  • This is an antecedent river called Langechen Khambab in Tibet.
  • Course – it runs almost parallel to the Indus River for about 400 km before entering India. It passes through the Shipki La on the Himalayan ranges and enters the Punjab plains. It meets the Beas River in Hari-ke-Patan in Amritsar, Punjab. After the confluence, the combined river enters Pakistan.
  • It feeds the canal system of the Bhakra Nangal project


  • Origin – Beas Kund near Rohtang Pass (Himachal Pradesh).
  • Course – It flows through the Kullu valley (Himachal Pradesh) and forms gorges at Kati and Largi in the Dhauladhar range. It enters the Punjab plains where it meets the Satluj near Harike (Punjab).
  • The Beas River flows entirely within India.


  • Origin – West of Rohtang Pass, Killu Hills (Himachal Pradesh).
  • Course – It flows through the Chamba Valley (Himachal Pradesh) of the state. It drains the area lying between the southeastern part of Pir Panjal and the Dhauladhar ranges. It enters the plains of Punjab and runs along the Indo-Pakistan border for some distance. It then enters Pakistan and joins the Chenab River near Sarai Sidhu.


  • Origin – Baralacha Pass (Himachal Pradesh).
  • It is formed by two streams – the Chandra and the Bhaga which meet at Tandi near Keylong in Himachal Pradesh. It is also known as Chandrabhaga.
  • It is the largest tributary of the Indus and flows for about 1180 km before entering Pakistan.


  • Origin – Spring at Verinag, in the south-eastern part of Kashmir valley, at the foothills of Pir Panjal.
  • Course – It flows through Srinagar and enters Wular Lake before entering Pakistan through a deep narrow gorge. At Jhang (Pakistan) it joins Chenab.

Ganga River System

  • The Ganga is India’s national river and the largest river system in the country, consisting of both perennial and non-perennial rivers originating from the Himalayas and the Peninsula respectively.
  • It flows through both India and Bangladesh, covering a length of approximately 2525 km.
  • The Ganga river basin spans about 8.6 lakh sq. km in India, passing through Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, and West Bengal.
  • Originating from the Gangotri glacier near Gaumukh in Uttarakhand, known as Bhagirathi, it meets Alaknanda at Devprayag, thereafter known as the Ganga.
  • Alaknanda originates from the Santopanth glacier above Badrinath, featuring five confluences known as the Panch Prayag.
    -Vishnuprayag: Here, the Dhauliganga river meets the Alaknanda river.
    -Nandaprayag: This is where the Nandakini river joins the Alaknanda river.
    -Karnaprayag: At this point, the Pindar river merges with the Alaknanda river.
    -Rudraprayag: The Mandakini river, also known as Kali Ganga, converges with the Alaknanda river here.
    -Devprayag: It marks the confluence of the Bhagirathi river with the Alaknanda river.
  • The Ganga emerges from the mountains onto the plains at Haridwar, flowing initially southward, then southeast to Mirzapur, and eventually eastward through the Bihar plains.
  • It proceeds eastwards to Farakka in West Bengal, where its distributary, Bhagirathi-Hooghly, flows southwards to the Bay of Bengal near Sagar Island.
  • Upon entering Bangladesh, the main branch is called the Padma, merging with the Jamuna and Meghna rivers before reaching the Bay of Bengal.
  • The delta formed by the Ganga and Brahmaputra rivers is known as the Sundarban Delta, the world’s largest and fastest-growing delta, home to the Royal Bengal tiger.
  • Right bank tributaries of the Ganga include the Yamuna, Tamas, Son, and Punpun, while the left bank tributaries include the Ramganga, Gomati, Ghaghara, Gandak, Kosi, and Mahanadi.

Brahmaputra River System

  • The Brahmaputra River is transboundary, traversing through China, India, and Bangladesh.
  • Originates from the Chemayungdung glacier in the Kailash range near Mansarovar Lake.
  • Initially named “Tsangpo” in southern Tibet, meaning “the purifier.”
  • Rango Tsangpo is its major right-bank tributary in Tibet.
  • Emerges forcefully after cutting through a deep gorge near Namcha Barwa in the Central Himalayas.
  • Enters India as Siang or Dihang, west of Sadiya town in Arunachal Pradesh.
  • The main left-bank tributaries include Dibang or Sikang and Lohit, forming the Brahmaputra.The
  • Brahmaputra maintains a braided channel throughout Assam, creating numerous riverine islands.
  • Majuli in Assam stands as the world’s largest river island within Brahmaputra.
  • Enters Bangladesh near Dhubri, where Tista/Teesta joins on the right bank, becoming Jamuna.
  • Splits into two distributaries: Jamuna, merging with Padma (Ganga river), and the smaller eastern branch known as the lower or old Brahmaputra, merging with Meghna near Dhaka.
  • Padma and Meghna converge near Chandpur, forming the Meghna River into the Bay of Bengal.
  • Major left-bank tributaries include Burhi-Dihing and Dhansiri.
  • Major right bank tributaries consist of Subansiri (Gold River), Kameng, Manas, and Sankosh.The
  • Brahmaputra is infamous for floods, channel alterations, and bank erosion due to its large tributaries bringing substantial sediment from heavy rainfall in the catchment area.

Peninsular Drainage System

The Peninsular rivers maintain a steady course, lack meandering patterns, and often have non-perennial water flow. However, the Narmada and Tapi rivers, coursing through rift valleys, stand as exceptions to these characteristics.

Major West Flowing Peninsular Rivers


  • The Narmada River originates on the western flank of the Amarkantak plateau (Madhya Pradesh) at an altitude of about 1,057 meters.
  • It flows in a rift valley towards the west, between the Vindhyan range in the north and the Satpura range in the south.
  • Along its course, the Narmada creates picturesque locations such as the “Marble Rocks” near Jabalpur and the “Dhuandhar Falls” in Jabalpur, Madhya Pradesh.
  • The river passes through the states of Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat.
  • It drains into the Arabian Sea near the Gulf of Khambhat, south of Bharuch city in Gujarat, forming a broad 27 km estuary.
  • The Narmada is the longest west-flowing river in India and the largest flowing river in Madhya Pradesh.
  • The Sardar Sarovar Project has been constructed on this river.
  • The total length of the river is approximately 1,312 kilometers.
  • Kanha National Park is located in the upper reaches of the Narmada river, famously described by Rudyard Kipling in his book “The Jungle Book.”


  • Similar to the Narmada, this river is a significant westward-flowing waterway.
  • It originates from Multai in the Betul district of Madhya Pradesh.
  • Like the Narmada, it also flows in a rift valley but is notably shorter in length.
  • The river empties into the Arabian Sea near the Gulf of Khambhat.
  • With a length of approximately 724 km, it traverses through the states of Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, and Gujarat.
  • Maharashtra encompasses about 79% of its basin, followed by Madhya Pradesh with 15%, and Gujarat with the remaining 6%.
  • The Ukai Dam stands as a key infrastructure along this river.


  • The Mahi River originates in the Vindhyan Range in Madhya Pradesh.
  • It initially flows north-west into Rajasthan (Vagad) before changing course to the southwest as it enters Gujarat.
  • The river eventually drains into the Arabian Sea near the Gulf of Khambhat.
  • Key dams constructed along the Mahi River include the Mahi Bajaj Sagar Dam and the Kandana Dam.


  • The river originates in the Aravalli Range within the Udaipur District of Rajasthan. It flows southwestward across Rajasthan and Gujarat before reaching the Gulf of Khambhat in the Arabian Sea


  • The Luni River is the largest river in the Thar Desert of north-west India.
  • It begins in the Pushkar valley of the Aravalli Range, near Ajmer. Initially called Sagarmati, it merges with Sarasvati, originating from Pushkar Lake, and is then referred to as Luni.
  • The river becomes brackish below Balotra and flows southwestward into the Rann of Kutch.
  • Also known as the Lavanavari or Lavanavati, the name means “Salt water” in Sanskrit.

West Flowing Small Rivers

The rivers and their origins are mentioned below.

  • Shetrunji – near Dalkahwa in Amreli district (Gujarat).
  • Bhadra – Aniali village in Rajkot district (Gujarat).
  • Dhadhar – near Ghantar village in PanchMahal district (Gujarat).
  • Vaitarna – Trimbak Hills in Nasik District (Maharashtra).
  • Kalinadi – Belgaum district and falls in Karwar Bay.
  • Bedti – Hubli Dharwar (Karnataka).
  • Sharavati – Shimoga district of Karnataka.
  • Mandovi and Juari are the two important rivers of Goa.
  • Bharathapuzha – near Anamalai hills. The river is also known as Ponnani.
  • Periyar – Sivagiri Hills of Western Ghats. It is an important river of Kerala.
  • Pamba – It flows in Kerala and falls in the Vembanad lake.

Major East Flowing Peninsular Rivers

Eastward-flowing rivers move from west to east because of the land’s slope and ultimately empty into the Bay of Bengal. They transport significant sediment loads, leading to the formation of deltas along the east coast. In contrast, westward-flowing rivers create estuaries.


  • The Mahanadi originates near Sihawa in the Raipur district of Chhattisgarh. It runs through Odisha and discharges into the Bay of Bengal.
  • Its length is 851 km and the drainage basin is shared by Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Odisha.
  • Initially, the river flows in a northerly direction and drains the Raipur district. It then flows in an easterly direction and is joined by the Jonk and Hasdeo rivers before entering Odisha. Near the city of Sambalpur, it is dammed by the largest earthen dam in the world, the Hirakud Dam. The Mahanadi enters the Bay of Bengal via several channels near Paradeep at False Point, Jagatsinghpur (Odisha).
  • The Mahanadi was called “the sorrow of Orissa”, however, the construction of the Hirakud Dam has helped to keep the river well in control.

  • The Godavari is the largest Peninsular river system and is also called the Dakshin Ganga (Ganga of the south).
  • The river originates in the Western Ghats of Central India near Nashik in Maharashtra. It flows eastwards and enters Telangana State (in Nizamabad district). The river then flows south-east, flowing through a gap in the Eastern Ghats ranges and then crosses Andhra Pradesh. The river after Rajahmundry splits into several branches forming a large delta along the coast of the Bay of Bengal. This delta along with the delta of the Krishna river is called the Rice Granary of South India.
  • Its length is 1,465 km and the drainage system is shared by the states of Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Odisha and Andhra Pradesh.
  • Below the city of Rajahmundry in Andhra Pradesh, a dam was constructed on the river in the mid 19th century by the British engineer Sir Arthur Thomas Cotton, the first major irrigation project on the Godavari.
  • The Penganga, the Indravati, the Pranhita and the Manjra are the principal tributaries of the Godavari river.

  • The Krishna is the second-largest east-flowing Peninsular river which originates near Mahabaleshwar in Sahyadri. It empties into the Bay of Bengal at Hamsaladeevi, near Koduru in Andhra Pradesh.
  • Its length is 1,401 km and the drainage basin is shared by the States of Maharashtra, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana.
  • The Tungabhadra, Dhudhganga, Koyana, Ghatprabha, Musi and Bhima are some of its important tributaries.

  • The river originates in the Brahmagiri range of the Western Ghats, Kogadu district in Karnataka.
  • The river flows through the states of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu.
  • The length of the river is about 800 km and the river basin is shared by three states and a Union Territory – Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Kerala and Puducherry.
  • The river Kaveri makes the second biggest waterfall in India known as Shivasamudram Falls. The power generated from the falls is supplied to Mysore, Bengaluru and the Kolar Gold Field.
  • Its important tributaries are the Kabini, Bhavani, Amravati and Hemavat.

East Flowing Small rivers

The Subarnrekha, Baitarni, Brahmani, Vamsadhara, Penner, Palar and Vaigai are small east-flowing rivers.

Drainage System of India- Types of Drainage System_3.1

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What is drainage system of India?

About 77% of the drainage is oriented towards the Bay of Bengal while 23% discharge their water into the Arabian Sea. On the basis of mode of origin, nature and characteristics, the Indian drainage may be classified into the Himalayan drainage and the Peninsular drainage.

How many drainage are there in India?

There are 20 river basins/draining areas, large and small, in India. The Ganga basin is the largest. Narmada river is the fifth largest river and is also the largest west flowing river. Narmada basin has been shown at index 15 in the basin map.

Which was the first drainage system in India?

The Indus Valley Civilization's system of underground drainage was the most distinctive aspect of the town layout. It is recognised as the first drainage system in the world by its inhabitants. It has distinctive elements like covering for Slab and Manhole.

Who started drainage system in India?

The first drainage system was introduced by the Indus valley civilization 5000 years ago

Who controls the drainage system of India?

The drainage systems of India are mainly controlled by the broad relief features of the subcontinent. Accordingly, the Indian rivers are divided into two major groups: • the Himalayan rivers; and • the Peninsular rivers.

What are the two major drainage systems of India?

The drainage system of India, that is, the rivers, is divided into two major groups: the Himalayan rivers. the Peninsular rivers.

Which is India's largest drainage?

In India, the river Ganga forms the largest drainage basin.

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