River System in India – Major Indian River System and Their Tributaries

By BYJU'S Exam Prep

Updated on: November 14th, 2023

The River System in India, or the Drainage Systems of India, is categorized into 10 types. The major Indian rivers are considered those having a size of a catchment area of 20,000 sq km. There are broadly 3 types of Indian river systems, namely:

  • Himalayan River Systems – Indus, Brahmaputra, and Ganga River System
  • Peninsular River Systems – Godavari, Krishna, Cauveri, and Mahanadi River System
  • West Flowing Peninsular River Systems – Narmada, Tapti, Sabarmati River, Mahi, and Luni River

The rivers of India and their tributaries are of great significance to India as they support millions of lives. That is why, throughout history, the major cities have been positioned near the river banks. This article will highlight the various types of river systems in India and their important features.

River System in India

India is home to hundreds of rivers. It has 10 prominent river systems, the Indus River System being the longest. Its total length is 3180 km, of which 1114 km lies in India. The Ganga River System Starts and ends within India and has a length of 2510 km.

River System in India UPSC Notes

The major River System in India is divided into Himalayan rivers and Peninsular Rivers based on their source of origin. The Himalayan rivers originate from the Himalayas and Flow all along the Northern Plains, while the rivers in the Peninsular River System originate from the Western Ghats. Also, these Peninsular rivers are rain-fed rivers.

Origin of Major Indian River Systems

The majority of the rivers in India release their waters into the Bay of Bengal. There are very few west-flowing rivers that ultimately join into the Arabian Sea.

Dry regions of the Thar Desert, some areas of Ladakh, and northern parts of the Aravalli range possess inland drainage. The list of major Indian rivers has one out of the three origins:

  • The Western Ghats
  • Karakoram range and the Himalaya
  • Vindhya and Satpura range and the Chota Nagpur plateau

Important River System in India

The Major River systems of India contain rivers that provide a certain amount of water in percentage. The table below demonstrates the types of river systems in India along with their total length and actual length in India. Additionally, get a brief idea about the contribution of water by the major Indian rivers.

Indian River System Total Length Length in India
Tapti River System 724 km 724 km
Cauveri River System 805 km 805 km
Mahanadi River System 851 km 851 km
Narmada River System 1376 km 1376 km
Yamuna River System 1376 km 1376 km
Krishna River System 1400 km 1400 km
Godavari River System 1465 km 1465 km
Ganga River System 2510 km 2510 km
Brahmaputra River System 2900 km 916 km
Indus River System 3180 km 1114 km

Water Contribution by Major Indian Rivers

Rivers of India Water Contribution (in %)
Narmada ~ 2.9
Krishna ~ 3.4
Mahanadi ~ 3.5
Godavari ~ 6.4
Ganga ~ 25
Brahmaputra ~ 40
Rest ~ 20

Map of River System in India

The term river system in India refers to the ‘river along with its tributaries’. Based on their origin, the River System in India is classified into two types: The Himalayan Rivers (The Indus, The Ganga, The Yamuna, and The Brahmaputra); and the Peninsular Rivers (Mahanadi, Godavari, Krishna, and Cauvery).

To have a deeper understanding of the major Indian river systems, their location, and tributaries, interpret the map given below.

River System in India – Major Indian River System and Their Tributaries

Indian River System and their Tributaries

All of the River systems of India play a crucial role in Indian society as they directly or indirectly impact the lives of living creatures. Here is a brief detail of the Indian Rivers and their tributaries, i.e., the Indian River System:

  • Indus River System
  • Brahmaputra River System
  • Ganga River System
  • Narmada River System
  • Yamuna River System
  • Tapti River System
  • Godavari River System
  • Krishna River System
  • Cauveri River System
  • Mahanadi River System

1. Indus River System

Indus River, popularly known as the Puranik River, is one of the historical rivers found in mythological texts and great Hindu Sculptures. The key features of the Indus River System in India are as follows:

  • It arises in Tibet from the northern slopes of the Kailash range of the Himalayas near Manasarovar Lake.
  • Indus is one of the largest rivers, with significant tributaries from India and some parts of Pakistan.
  • The River falls in the Arabian Sea near Karachi.
  • The length of the river from its source to where it falls in the Arabian Sea is 2897 km.
  • In India, it enters the JandK region and forms a picturesque gorge.

The major tributaries of the Indus River System are Sutlej, Beas, Chenab, Ravi, and Jhelum.

2. Brahmaputra River System

Like the Indus River System, the Brahmaputra River System originates from Manasarovar Lake. The key details of the Brahmaputra River System are as follows:

  • Though the Brahmaputra is one of the major River systems in India, yet, most of its course lies outside of India.
  • The total length of the Brahmaputra River System is 3848 km.
  • It flows eastward, parallel to the Himalayas, and enters India in Arunachal Pradesh.
  • Brahmaputra river is called as Dihang River in Arunachal Pradesh.

In Tibet, this Indian River System is known as the Tsangpo river. The Brahmaputra River System in India is considered the largest river in volume.


3. Ganga River System

The river Ganga derives its name from the Gangotri Glacier, its source. The Ganga River System is explained below:

  • Bishenganga, Dhauliganga, Pindar, and Mandakini rivers merge into Ganga before it reaches Devprayag.
  • At Karan Prayag, the Nanda Devi unites with the Alaknanda River while the Pindar River rises from the Eastern Trishul.
  • At Rudraprayag, it is joined by the Mandakini.
  • The river Alaknanda and Bhagirathi is known as Ganga at Devprayag.

The Ganga River System in India has the following tributaries – Son, Ghaghara, Gomati, Ram Ganga, Sapti Kosi, Damodar, and Yamuna.

4. Narmada River System

Located in central India, the Narmada River drains out into the Arabian sea from the Bharuch region of Gujarat. Its features are:

  • It originates in Madhya Pradesh, from the Amarkantak Hills, and runs to Gujarat and Maharashtra.
  • Narmada lines the traditional frontier between southern and Northern India.
  • Narmada flows from east to west along with the Mahi and Tapti rivers.
  • Like the Yamuna, the Narmada River drains out from the Bharuch district of Gujarat into the Arabian Sea.

5. Yamuna River System

The Yamuna River is the largest tributary of the Ganga River System. The key features of the Yamuna River System are as follows:

  • Yamuna River originates in Uttarakhand from the Yamunotri glacier.
  • The largest tributary of the Yamuna River System is Tons.
  • The Yamuna catchment extends to Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, and Delhi.

The prominent tributaries of the Yamuna River System in India are Chambal, Betwa Ken, Hindon, and Sin.

6. Tapti River System

The Tapti River System is one of the most important river systems in peninsular India that originates from Southern Madhya Pradesh in the east-to-west direction.

  • It drains through South Gujarat, Khandesh of Maharashtra, East Vidarbha region, and Nimar region of Madhya Pradesh.
  • Tapi’s river basin mostly lies in the northern and eastern districts of Maharastra and a few districts of Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh.

The prominent tributaries of the Tapi River System are the Bori River, Panzara River, Purna River, Girna River, Aner River, and Waghur River.

7. Godavari River System

The second largest Indian river system in terms of course with brownish water in India is the Godavari River System. The features are:

  • It is called the Vriddh (old) Ganga or Dakshin (south) Ganga.
  • The Godavari is one of the seasonal rivers in India that widens up during monsoons and gets dried during summers.
  • The Godavari originates near Nasik from Trimbakeshwar in Maharashtra, flows through Orissa, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, and Madhya Pradesh, and ends up in the Bay of Bengal.
  • At Rajahmundry, it forms a delta.
  • Its bank is considered holy and has been a pilgrimage site in Trimbak, Bhadrachalam, and Nasik.

Some of the major tributaries of the Godavari River System of India include Manjira, Sabari, Bindusara, Indravati River, and Pranahita. Also, Asia’s largest bridge (road-cum-rail) is located on the Godavari river. It links Rajahmundry and Kovvur.

8. Krishna River System

Krishna river originates from Mahabaleshwar, Maharashtra. It is one of the major rivers in India; in terms of length, that flows through Sangli and ends up at the Bay of Bengal.

  • It flows through Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Karnataka, and Maharashtra.
  • One of its major tributaries, Tungabhadra, is formed by Bhadra and Tunga Rivers and originates from the Western Ghats.

The major tributaries of the Krishna River System are Musi, Yerla, Warna, Ghataprabha, Dindi, Mallaprabha, Bhima, Koyna, and Dudhganga.

9. Cauveri River System

The Cauveri River System originates from the Western Ghats and is one of the pilgrimage sites for Hindus in the Kodagu district, Karnataka.

  • It flows through Karnataka and Tamil Nadu and drains at the Bay of Bengal.
  • People have been dependent on Cauvery for irrigation and agriculture since ancient times.

The major tributaries of the Cauveri River System in India are Tirtha, Noyyal, Bhavani, Lokapavani, Kabini, Lakshmana, Amaravati, Hannuhole, Shimsha, Kapila, Hemavati, Shisha, and Arkavathy.

10. Mahanadi River System

The Mahanadi River System originates in central India from Satpura Range and flows in eastern India.

  • It flows through Orissa, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, and Maharashtra.
  • Hirakud Dam, the largest dam in India, is built on Mahanadi River System.

List of Indian River Systems: Area and Places Benefited

Eight important rivers, together with their several tributaries, constitute the River System of India. The majority of the rivers discharge their waters into the Bay of Bengal, whereas the Thamirabarani river system ends in the Gulf of Mannar. Tabulated are the major Indian River Systems along with their area, origin, and places they benefit while flowing through them.

Name Area Places Benefited Origin
Indus 3,21,289 Sq.Km. India and Pakistan Tibet on the northern slopes of Mount Kailash
Ganga (Bhagirathi) 1.08 million Sq.Km. Bihar, Uttarakhand,  Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal Gangotri in Uttarakhand
Yamuna (Jamuna) 366223 Sq.Km. Delhi, Haryana, and UP Yamunotri in Garhwal
Brahmaputra 194413 Sq.Km. – in India Assam, Arunachal Pradesh Angsi Glacier in Tibet
Kaveri (Dakshina Ganga or Ganges of the south) 81155 Sq.Km. Karnataka, Tamil Nadu Brahmagiri hills in Kogadu, Karnataka
Godavari 3,12,812 Sq.Km. South-eastern part of Andhra Pradesh Triambakeshwar in Maharashtra
Krishna 258948 Sq.Km. Andhra Pradesh &  Maharashtra Mahabaleshwar in Maharashtra
Narmada 98,796 Sq.Km. Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra Amarkantak in Madhya Pradesh
Tapti 65,300 Sq.Km. Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra Betul district of Madhya Pradesh in the Satpura range
Mahanadi 1,41,600 Sq.Km. Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Orissa Sihava mountains of Chhattisgarh
Vaigai 7,741 Sq.Km. Madurai in Tamil Nadu Varusanadu Hills
Periyar 5,398 Sq.Km. Kerala and Tamil Nadu Sivagiri peaks of Sundaramala, Tamil Nadu
Thamirabarani 4,400 Sq.Km. Tamil Nadu Agastyarkoodam peak of Pothigai hills of the Western Ghats

River System in India UPSC

The principal River System in India is divided into Himalayan rivers and Peninsular Rivers based on their source of origin. There are ten major river systems in India, which form a significant part of the Geography syllabus of UPSC. Students must learn about important Indian river systems, their origin, and their tributaries.

Candidates must practice the river system in India UPSC questions to fetch good marks. The topic has an important role in the IAS exam, hence aspirants must revise and practice all the factual attributes of river systems using maps of India.

Indian River System Sample Questions

Question: Which among the following is not a tributary of Brahmaputra river? Siang, Teesta, Manas, Tons
Answer: Tons

Question: The Koyna, Tungabhadra and Bhima rivers are the major tributaries of which of the following river? – Ganga, Tapti, Krishna, Godavari
Answer: Krishna

Question: Which of the following rivers does not originate in India? Yamuna, Godavari, Brahmaputra, Ganga
Answer: Brahmaputra

Question: Which of the following rivers is not the tributary of Yamuna? (A) Ken, (B) Gandak, (C) Betwa, (D) Chambal
Answer: Gandak

Question: River Luni originates near Pushkar and drains into whit one of the following? (A) Gulf of Cambay, (B) Arabian Sea, (C) Lake Sambhar, (D) Rann of Kachchh
Answer: Rann of Kachchh

UPSC Notes
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