Drainage System: Types, Meaning, Drainage System of India UPSC

By BYJU'S Exam Prep

Updated on: November 14th, 2023

The Drainage system of India comprises numerous small and large rivers. It is the result of the evolution of the three major geomorphologic units and the nature of rainfall. The Ganga, Indus, and Brahmaputra river basins are part of the Himalayan drainage system. The Narmada, Tapi, Mahanadi, Godavari, Krishna, and Kaveri rivers drain the peninsular plateau.

The river Ganga has the largest drainage system in India, with a length of approximately 2525 km. The geological time period, structure of rocks, slope, amount of water flowing, nature, and periodicity of flow all influence an area’s drainage system. Let us learn the Drainage System of India UPSC topic here and various aspects related to it in the coming sections.

Drainage System of India

The Drainage System of India refers to a complex network formed by the group of Indian rivers and their tributaries. Drainage is the channel of a river system in an area. Drainage Basin refers to an area drained by one river system, i.e. Important river of India along with its tributaries. An Indian drainage system is a group of drainages, i.e. channels of the main (original) river and its tributaries.

Drainage System of India PDF

The function of the geological period’s time determines the drainage pattern’s characteristics. Candidates preparing for the UPSC exam are advised to read all about the drainage system of India. The major characteristics of drainage patterns are – topography, slope, amount of water flow, and nature and structure of rocks.

Types of Drainage System in India

Classification of a drainage system depends on various factors such as origin, catchment area, and much more. These classifications are an important part of the IAS syllabus. The drainage system of India can be classified into four different categories, which are:

  • Based on the size of the Catchment Area
  • Drainage Systems Based on Origin
  • Based on the Type of Drainage
  • Based on Orientation to the Sea

Drainage Systems Based on the Size of the Catchment Area

The size of the catchment area of a river is directly proportional to the size of the river. The catchment area is where the river water is collected. It is different from the river basin. The difference between the catchment area and river basin is also essential for the UPSC exam.

Let us see the drainage systems based on the size of the catchment area:

  • Major river: 20,000 (catchment area in sq km)
  • Medium river: 20,000 – 2,000 (catchment area in sq km)
  • Minor river: 2,000 and below (catchment area in sq km)

Drainage System Based on Origin

The origin of the rivers is important because the drainage system depends on it. The drainage system based on the origin is as follows:

  • The Himalayan Rivers Drainage System
  • The Peninsular Rivers Drainage System

Drainage Systems Based on the Drainage

Drainage system can also be classified based on the type of drainage of the river such as sea, inland, etc. The different types of drainage based on the drain:

  • Rivers that drain into the sea.
  • Rivers with the inland drainage basin.

Drainage Systems Based on Orientation to the Sea

The drainage systems can also be classified into two categories based on the sea. The majority of the rivers in India drain into the Bay of Bengal, and a few of the rivers drain into the Arabian sea. The Bay of Bengal receives 77% of the country’s drainage. Whereas 23% goes to the Arabian sea. The major classification based on the orientation of the sea is:

  • The Bay of Bengal drainage
  • Arabian sea drainage

Major River System or Drainage System in India

The river system or drainage system of India can be majorly divided into three parts based on the rivers and their tributaries. The major drainage systems are listed below:

  • Himalayan River Systems
  • Peninsular River Systems

Major River System

Himalayan Drainage System of India

The upliftment of the Himalayas in the different geological periods resulted in the present drainage system of Himalayan rivers. The water divide, watershed and channel of these rivers have changed at different times, and the folding leads to the creation of many rivers. There are three major river systems in the Himalayas:

The following table shows the complete description of the rivers in the Himalayan drainage system along with their tributaries:

Indus Near Bokhar Chu Glacier, Tibetan Plateau Left: Jhelum, Sutlej, Chenab, Ravi, Zanskar, Beas

Right: Shyok, Gilgit, Tochi, Kabul, Hunza, Khurram, Gomal, Sangar, Viboa

Arabian Sea (near Karachi, Pakistan)
Ganga Confluence of R. Bhagirathi and R. Alaknanda at DevPrayag Left: Ramganga, Gomati, Gandak, Kosi, Ghaghara, Mahananda

Right: Yamuna, Son, Chambal, Betwa

Sagar Island, Bay of Bengal (Bangladesh)
Jhelum Verinag, J & K Right: Neelum, Sind R. Chenab (in Pakistan)
Chenab Tandi, Himachal Pradesh (formed by two rivers Chandra and Bhaga) Right: Marusadar river R. Indus (in Pakistan)
Ravi Rohtang Pass, Himachal Pradesh R. Chenab
Sutlej Raksas Tal, near Mansarovar, Tibet Left: Baspa

Right: Spiti, Beas

R. Chenab, Pakistan
Beas Beas Kund, near Rohtang pass, Himachal Pradesh R. Sutlej
Chambal Mhow, Malwa plateau Left: Banas

Right: Parbati, Shipra

R. Yamuna, Madhya Pradesh
Mahananda Darjeeling Hills R. Ganga, West Bengal
Gandak Mustang, Nepal Left: Trisuli

Right: Kali Gandak

R. Ganga, Sonpur, Bihar
Ramganga Pauri Garhwal, Uttarakhand R. Ganga, Uttar Pradesh
Ghagra Mapchachungo, Tibet Left: Rapti

Right: Sarda, Budhi Ganga

R. Ganga, Bihar
Kosi Tribenighat, Nepal R. Ganga, Bihar
Son Amarkantak Plateau R. Ganga, Bihar (near Patna)
Brahmaputra Chemayungdung Glacier, Kailash Range, Tibet Left: Burhi Dihing, Dhansri, Lohit

Right: Subansri, Manas, Kameng, Sankosh

Bay of Bengal
Yamuna Yamunotri Glacier Left: Rishiganga

Right: Chambal, Betwa, Ken, Sind

R. Ganga, Allahabad (UP)

Peninsular Drainage System of India

The course and channel of Peninsular rivers are evolved by passing through various geological events like subsidence, Upheaval of Himalayas, the tilt of Peninsular India. The Western Ghats acts as a water divide. Thus, most of the peninsular rivers of India flow towards the east and few flow through the west, reaching the Arabian Sea with few exemptions which flow northwards. The characteristics of river channels of these rivers, like the fixed course, absence of meanders, etc., indicate that these rivers are older than Himalayan rivers.

  • Godavari River System
  • Krishna River System
  • Cauvery River System
  • Mahanadi River System

Check out the brief description of the Peninsular rivers and their tributaries in the table below:

Narmada Amarkantak Hills, Madhya Pradesh Left: Tawa, Shakkar

Right: Hiran, Kolar, Dindori

Gulf of Khambat, Arabian Sea
Godavari Brahmagiri Hills, Nasik, Maharashtra Left: Prahnita, Indravati

Right: Manjira, Pravara, Manair

Bay of Bengal, Andhra Pradesh (East Godavari district)
Mahanadi Sihawa, Chattisgarh Left: Seonath, Mand, Ib

Right: Ong, Jonk, Telen

Bay of Bengal (False Point, Odisha)
Krishna Mahabaleshwar, Maharashtra Left: Bhima, Musi, Munneru

Right: Tungabhadra, Koyna, Dudhganga, Ghataprabha

Krishna district, Andhra Pradesh, Bay of Bengal
Cauvery Brahmagiri Hills, Karnataka Left: Hemavathi, Arkavathy

Right: Kabini, Bhavani, Noyyal, Amaravati

Poompuhar, Tamil Nadu, Bay of Bengal
Tapi Betul District, Madhya Pradesh Gulf of Khambat, Surat, Arabian Sea

Types of Drainage System: Comparison

There exist differences between the Himalayan and peninsular rivers based on aspects such as the nature of the flow, drainage type, etc., which makes them distinguished. Here is the comparison of the Himalayan and the Peninsular Rivers of India:

S. No. Aspect Peninsular River Himalayan River
1. Place of origin Peninsular plateau and central highland Himalayan Mountains
2. Nature of flow Seasonal Perennial
3. Nature of river Smaller course Long course
4. Type of drainage Trellis, Rectangular and Radial pattern Dendritic pattern
5. Catchment area Smaller basin Larger basin
6. Age of the river Old rivers Young rivers

Different Drainage Patterns

The Drainage patterns are formed based on the channel and shape of rivers which forms a part of the drainage basin. There are various drainage patterns in India; a few important ones are mentioned below:

  • Dendritic: The flow pattern of the original river and its tributaries looks like tree branches in the Dendritic Drainage pattern. E.g., R. Indus, R. Mahanadi, R. Godavari, etc.,
  • Radial: In Radial Drainage Pattern, the rivers originate from a common area and flow in all directions from the source region. E.g., Amarkantak Plateau
  • Trellis: In Trellis Drainage Pattern, the tributaries (Subsequent rivers) join the original river at right angles, and the tributaries flow parallel to each other.
  • Centripetal: In Centripetal Drainage Pattern, rivers from different directions drain into a common area. Eg: Loktak Lake, Manipur.

Drainage System of India UPSC

Drainage system of India is an essential concept for the UPSC-conducted exams. Each year various questions are seen in the Preliminary and Mains examination based on this topic. Aspirants are advised to understand the complete drainage system of India and practice answering the questions out of their memory.

A sample of the drainage system of India UPSC questions is provided below:

Which of the following river flows via rift valley?

  1. Narmada
  2. Kosi
  3. Son
  4. Ramganga

(Answer: a)

Which of the following confluence of rivers does Rajarappa situate in?

  1. Damodar- Behera
  2. Damodar- Konar
  3. Damodar- Barakar
  4. Damodar- Sherbhukhi

(Answer: a)

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