India is a land of rivers with two broad categories of river systems, namely Himalayan Rivers and Peninsular Rivers. Himalayan rivers are fed with melted snow of the great mountain range while the peninsular rivers are rainfed. These rivers traverse across the country from different parts of it. In this article, we will discuss 13 longest Indian rivers along with their unique characteristics.
Table of Contents
1. The Indus
The total length of the Indus river is 3,180 km of which 2,900 km is in India. The river originates in the northern slant of the Kailash range in Tibet close to Lake Manasarovar. The Indus flows through Ladakh to Punjab before entering Pakistan where it unites with the Arabian Sea at the port of Karachi. The five major tributaries of the Indus are Setluj, Chenab, Jhelum, Ravi, and Beas. The river is the primary source of water for agriculture in the fertile lands of Punjab.
2. The Brahmaputra
The Brahmaputra travels across three countries, starting from Tibet, China and ending in Bangladesh. Of its total 2,900 km length, it covers 1,800 km in India. The river originated at the Angsi Glacier in the Himalayas, enters India through Arunachal Pradesh and flows through Assam and finally empties itself in the Bay of Bengal via Bangladesh.
In the course of its journey, it assumes different names in different countries it passes through. In Tibet it is called Tsangpo (“Purifier”), in India, it is the Brahmaputra, and in Bangladesh, it takes two names, Jamuna and Meghna.
3. The Ganges
The Ganges is the most famous and revered river in India with its 2,525 km length inside the Indian border. Created from the glacier called Gangotri in the Himalayas, the river travels through the north Indian states of Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh and flows into the eastern states of Bihar and West Bengal before entering Bangladesh where it meets with the Bay of Bengal finally.
TheGanges has been the backbone of the human civilization in northern India from time immemorial. It has paramount economic, political as well as a spiritual value. Major tributaries of the river are Gomati, Gandak, Koshi, Mahananda, Yamuna, and Son.
The delta formed by the giant rivers Ganges and Brahmaputra covers an approximate area of 105,000 square kilometers and is known as the Sunderbans Delta or the Bengal Delta. It spreads from the Hooghly River of West Bengal on the west to the Meghna River of Bangladesh on the east. This is the largest river delta in the world.
Known as the “Ganges of the South,” Godavari is sourced near Nasik in the state of Maharashtra in western India and discharges itself in the Bay of Bengal. The river has a length of 1,465 km. Like the Ganges, Godavari also finds its place in Hindu mythology and ancient scriptures as a significant part of the civilization. The river delta has a strikingly high population density of approximately 700 people per square km, which is rarely seen anywhere.
Although a 1,500 km long river, it is mostly running in Pakistan with a small segment in India and China. The river is formed at Rakshastal, Tibet and is a tributary of the Indus river. It also flows through a very high altitude. Other names of the river are the Satluj or the Satadree. The river is very swift-flowing, which makes it highly useful for the generation of hydroelectricity or hydel power. The famous Bhakra Dam is located on this river. It produces 1,000 MW of electricity.
The water of Sutlej is distributed between India and Pakistan under the Indus Water Treaty, and the water is primarily used for irrigation.
With an alternative name of Krishnaveni River, Krishna is a 1,400 km long river. Formed in the Western Ghats of the southeastern part of the country, at Mahabaleshwar, a small town in the state of Maharashtra, the river flows through the states of Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, and Karnataka before ending its journey in the Bay of Bengal via Andhra Pradesh. The river is known for its quick flow and intense deepness. Two of its main tributaries are the Tungabhadra River and the Bhima River.
7. The Yamuna
The Yamuna, apart from being a tributary of the Ganges, has its own identity as a river in India. Originating from the glacier named Yamunorti at Banderpoonch peak in the Uttarkashi district of Uttarakhand, the river flows 1,376 km before merging with the Ganges at Prayag or Sangam in Uttar Pradesh. The Yamuna is the largest river in the country which does not flow into the sea. This river is also a major source of water and livelihood for over 50 million people.
The Narmada is a peninsular river that flows through the middle part of the country. It has a length of 1,312 km. The unique fact about this river is that unlike most Indian rivers, it flows westward from Amarkantak in Madhya Pradesh to the Arabian Sea. Owing to its immense contribution in the development of the states of Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh, it is called “Lifeline of Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh.”
There was a mass movement which started in the year 1985 led by activist Medha Patkar against the construction of a huge dam on the river Narmada under the name of Narmada Bachao Andolan (Save Narmada Movement).
Emanating from the high Himalayas of southern Tibet Autonomous Region, China, the river travels through a distance of 1,080 km of which 970 km is in India. The river is a major tributary of the Ganges. The two rivers meet at Chapra in Bihar.
Covering a distance of 900 km from the hills of southeastern Chhattisgarh state to the Bay of Bengal, near False Point, Kendrapara, Odisha, Mahanadi is the most-active silt-depositing streams in the Indian subcontinent. The Hirakud dam is situated on the river which generates hydel power and has formed a 55 km human-made lake.
A 900 km long river Gomti is another tributary of the Ganges and a monsoon-and groundwater-fed river. Originating from Gomat Taal, it meets the Ganges near Saidpur, Kaithi, in Uttar Pradesh. The city of Lucknow is situated on the banks of the river. Gomti also has much religious significance.
12. Kaveri (Cauvery)
The 765 km long Kaveri river is originated at Talakaveri in the Western Ghats in Karnataka and passes through the states of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu before finally merging into the Bay of Bengal. In the south of Tamil Nadu, the river forms a vast delta famously known as the “garden of southern India.” Devout Hindus call this river as Dakshin Ganga meaning the “Ganges of the South,” and the river has been time and again mentioned in Tamil literature.
The two Indian states of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka that share the water of Kaveri were embroiled in a dispute with the equitable distribution of the water for about fifty years. However, the altercation got resolved by the verdict of the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India in the year 2018 with an allocation of more water to the state of Karnataka.
Tapti or Tapi has a length of 724 km and culminates from the Eastern Satpura Ranges, Madhya Pradesh and merges into the Gulf of Khambhat, Gujarat. In ancient times, the Sural port on the Tapti river used to be an important waterway for exports and travel.