Definition:- The term drainage describes the river system of an area. The area drained by a single river system is called a drainage basin.
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.
Most of the Himalayan rivers are perennial. It means that they have water throughout the year. These rivers receive water from rain as well as from melted snow from the lofty mountains. The two major Himalayan rivers, the Indus and the Brahmaputra originate from the north of the mountain ranges. They have cut through the mountains making gorges. The 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.
A large number of the Peninsular rivers are seasonal, as their flow is dependent on rainfall. The Peninsular rivers have shorter and shallower courses as compared to their Himalayan counterparts. However, some of them originate in the central highlands and flow towards the west. Most of the rivers of peninsular India originate in the Western Ghats and flow towards the Bay of Bengal.
The streams within a drainage basin form certain patterns, depending on the slope of land, underlying rock structure as well as the climatic conditions of the area. These are dendritic, trellis, rectangular, and radial patterns. The dendritic pattern develops where the river channel follows the slope of the terrain. The stream with its tributaries resembles the branches of a tree, thus the name dendritic. A river joined by its tributaries, at approximately right angles, develops a trellis pattern.
1. A trellis drainage pattern develops where hard and soft rocks exist parallel to each other.
2. A rectangular drainage pattern develops on a strongly jointed rocky terrain.
3. The radial pattern develops when streams flow in different directions from a central peak or dome like structure. A combination of several patterns may be found in the same drainage basin.
The major Himalayan rivers are the Indus, the Ganga and the Brahmaputra. These rivers are long, and are joined by many large and important tributaries. A river alongwith its tributaries may be called a river system.
The Indus River System:-
The river Indus rises in Tibet, near Lake Mansarowar. Flowing west, it enters India in the Ladakh district of Jammu and Kashmir. It forms a picturesque gorge in this part. Several tributaries, the Zaskar, the Nubra, the Shyok and the Hunza, join it in the Kashmir region. The Indus flows through Baltistan and Gilgit and emerges from the mountains at Attock. The Satluj, the Beas, the Ravi, the Chenab and the Jhelum join together to enter the Indus near Mithankot in Pakistan. Beyond this, the Indus flows southwards eventually reaching the Arabian Sea, east of Karachi. The Indus plain has a very gentle slope. With a total length of 2900 km, the Indus is one of the longest rivers of the world. A little over a third of the Indus basin is located in India in the states of Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh and the Punjab and the rest is in Pakistan.
The Ganga River System
The headwaters of the Ganga, called the ‘Bhagirathi’ is fed by the Gangotri Glacier and joined by the Alaknanda at Devaprayag in Uttaranchal. At Haridwar the Ganga emerges from the mountains on to the plains. The Ganga is joined by many tributaries from the Himalayas, a few of them being major rivers such as the Yamuna, the Ghaghara, the Gandak and the Kosi. The river Yamuna rises from the Yamunotri Glacier in the Himalayas. It flows parallel to the Ganga and as a right bank tributary, meets the Ganga at Allahabad. The Ghaghara, the Gandak and the Kosi rise in the Nepal Himalaya. They are the rivers, which flood parts of the northern plains every year, causing widespread damage to life and property but enriching the soil for the extensive agricultural lands.
The main tributaries, which come from the peninsular uplands, are the Chambal, the Betwa and the Son. These rise from semi arid areas, have shorter courses and do not carry much water in them. Enlarged with the waters from its right and left bank tributaries, the Ganga flows eastwards till Farakka in West Bengal. This is the northernmost point of the Ganga delta. The river bifurcates here; the Bhagirathi-Hooghly (a distributary) flows southwards through the deltaic plains to the Bay of Bengal. The mainstream, flows southwards into Bangladesh and is joined by the Brahmaputra. Further down stream, it is known as the Meghna. This mighty river, with waters from the Ganga, and the Brahmaputra, flows into the Bay of Bengal. The delta formed by these rivers is known as the Sunderban delta. The length of the Ganga is over 2500 km.
The Brahmaputra River System:-
The Brahmaputra rises in Tibet east of Mansarowar lake very close to the sources of the Indus and the Satluj. It is slightly longer than the Indus, and most of its course lies outside India. It flows eastwards parallel to the Himalayas. On reaching the Namcha Barwa (7757 m), it takes a ‘U’ turn and enters India in Arunachal Pradesh through a gorge. Here, it is called the Dihang and it is joined by the Dibang, the Lohit, the Kenula and many other tributaries to form the Brahmaputra in Assam. In Tibet the river carries a smaller volume of water and less silt as it is a cold and a dry area. In India it passes through a region of high rainfall. Here the river carries a 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. Every year during the rainy season, the river overflows its banks, causing widespread devastation due to floods in Assam and Bangladesh. 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.
The main water divide in Peninsular India is formed by the Western Ghats, which runs from north to south close to the western coast. Most of the major rivers of the Peninsula such as the Mahanadi, the Godavari, the Krishna and the Kaveri flow eastwards and drain into the Bay of Bengal. These rivers make deltas at their mouths. There are numerous small streams flowing west of the Western Ghats. The Narmada and the Tapi are the only long rivers, which flow west and make esturies. The drainage basins of the peninsular rivers are comparitevely small in size.
The Narmada Basin
The Narmada rises in the Amarkantak hills in Madhya Pradesh. It flows towards the west in a rift valley formed due to faulting. All the tributaries of the Narmada are very short and most of these join the main stream at right angles. The Narmada basin covers parts of Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat.
The Tapi Basin
The Tapi rises in the Satpura ranges, in the Betul district of Madhya Pradesh. Its basin covers parts of Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and Maharashtra. The coastal plains between western ghats and the Arabian sea are very narrow. Hence, the coastal rivers are short. The main west flowing rivers are Sabarmati, Mahi, Bharathpuzha and Periyar.
The Godavari Basin
The Godavari is the largest Peninsular river. It rises from the slopes of the Western Ghats in the Nasik district of Maharashtra. Its length is about 1500 km. It drains into the Bay of Bengal. Its drainage basin is also the largest among the peninsular rivers. The basin covers parts of Maharashtra (about 50 per cent of the basin area lies in Maharashtra), Madhya Pradesh, Orissa and Andhra Pradesh. The Godavari is joined by a number of tributaries such as the Purna, the Wardha, the Pranhita, the Manjra, the Wainganga and the Penganga.
The Mahanadi Basin
The Mahanadi rises in the highlands of Chhattisgarh. It flows through Orissa to reach the Bay of Bengal. The length of the river is about 860 km. Its drainage basin is shared by Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, and Orissa.
The Krishna Basin
Rising from a spring near Mahabaleshwar, the Krishna flows for about 1400 km and reaches the Bay of Bengal. The Tungabhadra, the Koyana, the Ghatprabha, the Musi and the Bhima are some of its tributaries. Its drainage basin is shared by Maharasthra, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh.
The Kaveri Basin
The Kaveri rises in the Brahmagri range of the Western Ghats and it reaches the Bay of Bengal in south of Cuddalore, in Tamil Nadu. Total length of the river is about 760 km. Its main tributaries are Amravati, Bhavani, Hemavati and Kabini. Its basin drains parts of Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu.
India has many lakes. These differ from each other in the size, and other characteristics. Most lakes are permanent; some contain water only during the rainy season, like the lakes in the basins of inland drainage of semi-arid regions. There are some of the lakes which are the result of the action of glaciers and ice sheets, while the others have been formed by wind, river action, and human activities. A meandering river across a flood plain forms cut-offs that later develop into ox-bow lakes. Spits and bars form lagoons in the coastal areas, eg the Chilika lake, the Pulicat lake, the Kolleru lake. Lakes in the region of inland drainage are sometimes seasonal; for example, the Sambhar lake in Rajasthan, which is a salt water lake. Its water is used for producing salt. Most of the fresh water lakes are in the Himalayan region. They are of glacial origin. In other words, they formed when glaciers dug out a basin, which was later filled with snowmelt. The Wular lake in Jammu and Kashmir, in contrast, is the result of the tectonic activity. It is the largest freshwater lake in India. The Dal lake, Bhimtal, Nainital, Loktak and Barapani are some other important fresh water lakes. Apart from natural lakes, the damming of the rivers for the generation of hydel power has also led to the formation of Lakes such as Guru Gobind Sagar (Bhakra Nangal Project).
A lake helps to regulate the flow of a river. During heavy rainfall, it prevents flooding and during the dry season, it helps to maintain an even flow of water. Lakes can also be used for developing hydel power. They moderate the climate of the surroundings; maintain the aquatic ecosystem, enhance natural beauty, help develop tourism and provide recreation.
Rivers have been of fundamental importance throughout the human history. Water from the rivers is a basic natural resource, essential for various human activities. Therefore, the river banks have attracted settlers from ancient times. These settlements have now become big cities. Make a list of cities in your state which are located on the bank of a river. Using rivers for irrigation, navigation, hydro-power generation is of special significance – particularly to a country like India, where agriculture is the major source of livelihood of the majority of its population.
The growing domestic, municipal, industrial and agricultural demand for water from rivers naturally affects the quality of water. As a result, more and more water is being drained out of the rivers reducing their volume. On the other hand, a heavy load of untreated sewage and industrial effluents are emptied into the rivers. This affects not only the quality of water but also the self-cleansing capacity of the river.