Notes of Ch 3 Drainage System| Class 11th Geography


• The flow of water through well-defined channels is known as ‘drainage’ and the network of such channels is called a ‘drainage system’.

• It is the outcome of the geological time period, nature and structure of rocks, topography, slope, amount of water flowing and the periodicity of the flow.

• It is perennial (always with water) or ephemeral (water during rainy season, and dry)

• A river drains the water collected from a specific area, which is called its ‘catchment area’.

• An area drained by a river and its tributaries is called a drainage basin.

• The boundary line separating one drainage basin from the other is known as the watershed.

• The catchments of large rivers are called river basins while those of small rivulets and rills are often referred to as watersheds.

• Watersheds are small in area while the basins cover larger areas.

• The drainage pattern resembling the branches of a tree is known as 'dendritic'. The examples of which are the rivers of northern plain.

• When the rivers originate from a hill and flow in all directions, the drainage pattern is known as ‘radial’. The rivers originating from the Amarkantak range present a good example of it.

• When the primary tributaries of rivers flow parallel to each other and secondary tributaries join them at right angles, the pattern is known as ‘trellis’.

• When the rivers discharge their waters from all directions in a lake or depression, the pattern is know as ‘centripetal’.

• On the basis of discharge of water (orientations to the sea), it may be grouped into:
(i) the Arabian Sea drainage;
(ii) the Bay of Bengal drainage.

• They are separated from each other through the Delhi ridge, the Aravalis and the Sahyadris.

• Nearly 77 per cent of the drainage area consisting of the Ganga, the Brahmaputra, the Mahanadi, the Krishna, etc. is oriented towards the Bay of Bengal while 23 per cent comprising the Indus, the Narmada, the Tapi, the Mahi and the Periyar systems discharge their waters in the Arabian Sea.

• On the basis of the size of the watershed, the drainage basins of India are grouped into three categories:
(i) Major river basins with more than 20,000 sq. km of catchment area. It includes 14 drainage basins such as the Ganga, the Brahmaputra, the Krishna, the Tapi, the Narmada, the Mahi, the Pennar, the Sabarmati, the Barak, etc.
(ii) Medium river basins with catchment area between 2,000-20,000 sq. km incorporating 44 river basins such as the Kalindi, the Periyar, the Meghna, etc.
(iii) Minor river basins with catchment area of less than 2,000 sq. km include fairly good number of rivers flowing in the area of low rainfall

• On the basis of the mode of origin, nature and characteristics, the Indian drainage may also be classified into:
(i) the Himalayan drainage
(ii) the Peninsular drainage

The Himalayan Drainage

• The Himalayan drainage system has evolved through a long geological history.

• Rivers form giant gorges V-shaped valleys, rapids and waterfalls in their mountainous

• While entering the plains, they form depositional features like flat valleys, ox-bow lakes,
flood plains.

• The important rivers are Ganga, the Indus and the Brahmaputra rivers.

• Since these are fed both by melting of snow and precipitation, rivers of this system are perennial.

Evolution of the Himalayan Drainage

• Geologists believe that a mighty river called Shiwalik or Indo-Brahma traversed the entire longitudinal extent of the Himalaya from Assam to Punjab and onwards to Sind, and finally discharged into the Gulf of Sind near lower Punjab during the Miocene period some 5-24 million years ago.

• The remarkable continuity of the Shiwalik and its lacustrine origin and alluvial deposits consisting of sands, silt, clay, boulders and conglomerates support this viewpoint. in due course of time Indo- Brahma river was dismembered into three main drainage systems:
(i) the stretch of the Brahmaputra in Assam and its Himalayan tributaries in the eastern part,
(ii) the Ganga and its Himalayan tributaries in the central part; and
(iii) the Indus and its five tributaries in the western part.

• The dismemberment was probably due to the Pleistocene upheaval in the western Himalayas, including the uplift of the Potwar Plateau (Delhi Ridge), which acted as the water divide between the Indus and Ganga drainage systems.

The Indus System

• It is one of the largest river basins of the world, covering an area of 11,65,000 sq. km (in India it is 321, 289 sq. km and a total length of 2,880 km (in India 1,114 km).

• It enters into Pakistan near Chillar in the Dardistan region. Find out the area known as Dardistan.

• The Indus also known as the Sindhu, is the westernmost of the Himalayan rivers in India.

• Tributaries such as the Shyok, the Gilgit, the Zanskar, the Hunza, the Nubra, the Shigar, the Gasting and the Dras.

• It originates from a glacier near Bokhar Chu (31 °15' N latitude and 81 °40' E longitude) in the Tibetan region at an altitude of 4,164 m in the Kailash Mountain range.

• In Tibet, it is known as ‘Singi Khamban; or Lion’s mouth. After flowing in the northwest direction between the Ladakh and Zaskar ranges, it passes through Ladakh and Baltistan.

• It cuts across the Ladakh range, forming a spectacular gorge near Gilgit in Jammu and Kashmir.

• The other important tributaries joining the right bank of the Indus are the Khurram, the Tochi, the Gomal, the Viboa and the Sangar. They all originate in the Sulaiman ranges.

The Ganga System

• The Ganga river system is the largest in India having a number of perennial and non​perennial rivers originating in the Himalayas in the north and the Peninsula in the south, respectively.

• The Ganga is the most important river of India both from the point of view of its basin and cultural significance. It rises in the Gangotri glacier near Gaumukh (3,900 m) in the Uttarkashi district of Uttarakhand. Here, it is known as the Bhagirathi.

• It cuts through the Central and the Lesser Himalayas in narrow gorges.

• At Devprayag, the Bhagirathi meets the Alaknanda, hereafter, it is known as the Ganga.

• The other tributaries of Alaknanda such as the Pindar joins it at Karna Prayag while Mandakini or Kali Ganga meets it at Rudra Prayag.

• The Ganga enters the plains at Haridwar. From here, it flows first to the south, then to the south-east and east before splitting into two distributaries, namely the Bhagirathi and the Hugli. The river has a length of 2,525 km. It is shared by Uttarakhand (110 km) and Uttar Pradesh (1,450 km), Bihar (445 km) and West Bengal (520 km).

• The Ganga basin covers about 8.6 lakh sq. km area in India alone.

•The river finally discharges itself into the Bay of Bengal near the Sagar Island.

The Brahmaputra System

• The Brahmaputra, one of the largest rivers of the world, has its origin in the Chemayungdung glacier of the Kailash range near the Mansarovar lake.

• The Rango Tsangpo is the major right bank tributary of this river in Tibet. It emerges as a turbulent and dynamic river after carving out a deep gorge in the Central Himalayas near Namcha Barwa (7,755 m). The river emerges from the foothills under the name of Siang or Dihang.

• In Bangladesh, the Tista joins it on its right bank from where the river is known as the Yamuna. It finally merges with the river Padma, which falls in the Bay of Bengal.

• The Brahmaputra is well-known for floods, channel shifting and bank erosion. This is due to the fact that most of its tributaries are large, and bring a large quantity of sediments owing to heavy rainfall in its catchment area. It enters India west of Sadiya town in Arunachal Pradesh.

• The Brahmaputra receives numerous tributaries in its 750 km long journey through the Assam valley. Its major left bank tributaries are the Burhi Dihing and Dhansari (South) whereas the important right bank tributaries are the Subansiri, Kameng, Manas and Sankosh. The Brahmaputra enters into Bangladesh near Dhubri and flows southward.

The Peninsular Drainage System

• The Peninsular drainage system is older than the Himalayan one. This is evident from the broad, largely-graded shallow valleys, and the maturity of the rivers.

• The Western Ghats running close to the western coast act as the water divide between the major Peninsular rivers, discharging their water in the Bay of Bengal and as small rivulets joining the Arabian Sea.

• Most of the major Peninsular rivers except Narmada and Tapi flow from west to east. The Chambal, the Sind, the Betwa, the Ken, the Son, originating in the northern part of the Peninsula belong to the Ganga river system.

• Peninsular rivers are characterised by fixed course, absence of meanders and non-perennial flow of water. The Narmada and the Tapi which flow through the rift valley are, however, exceptions.

The Evolution of Peninsular Drainage System

• Three major geological events in the distant past have shaped the present drainage systems of Peninsular India:
(i) Subsidence of the western flank of the Peninsula leading to its submergence below the sea during the early tertiary period. Generally, it has disturbed the symmetrical plan of the river on either side of the original watershed.
(ii) Slight tilting of the Peninsular block from northwest to the southeastern direction gave orientation to the entire drainage system towards the Bay of Bengal during the same period.
(iii) The upheaval of the Himalayas when the northern flank of the Peninsular block was subjected to subsidence and the consequent trough faulting. The Narmada and The Tapi flow in trough faults and fill the original cracks with their detritus materials. Hence, there is a lack of alluvial and deltaic deposits in these rivers.

River Systems of the Peninsular Drainage

The Mahanadi

• The Mahanadi rises near Sihawa in Raipur district of Chhattisgarh and runs through Odisha to discharge its water into the Bay of Bengal.

• It is 851 km long and its catchment area spreads over 1.42 lakh sq. km.

• Some navigation is carried on in the lower course of this river. Fifty three per cent of the drainage basin of this river lies in Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, while 47 per cent lies in Odisha.

The Godavari

• The Godavari is the largest Peninsular river system. It is also called the Dakshin Ganga.

• It rises in the Nasik district of Maharashtra and discharges its water into the Bay of Bengal. Its tributaries run through the states of Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Odisha and Andhra Pradesh.

• It is 1,465 km long with a catchment area spreading over 3.13 lakh sq. km 49 per cent of this, lies in Maharashtra, 20 per cent in Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, and the rest in Andhra Pradesh.

• The Penganga, the Indravati, the Pranhita, and the Manjra are its principal tributaries.

• The Godavari is subjected to heavy floods in its lower reaches to the south of Polavaram, where it forms a picturesque gorge. It is navigable only in the deltaic stretch. The river after Rajamundri splits into several branches forming a large delta.

The Krishna

• The Krishna is the second largest east- flowing Peninsular river which rises near Mahabaleshwar in Sahyadri. Its total length is 1,401 km.

• The Koyna, the Tungbhadra and the Bhima are its major tributaries.

• Of the total catchment area of the Krishna, 27 per cent lies in Maharashtra, 44 per cent in Karnataka and 29 per cent in Andhra Pradesh.

The Kaveri

• The Kaveri rises in Brahmagiri hills (1,341m) of Kogadu district in Karnataka.

• Its length is 800 km and it drains an area of 81,155 sq. km.

• Since the upper catchment area receives rainfall during the southwest monsoon season (summer) and the lower part during the northeast monsoon season (winter), the river carries water throughout the year with comparatively less fluctuation than the other Peninsular rivers.

• About 3 per cent of the Kaveri basin falls in Kerala, 41 per cent in Karnataka and 56 per cent in Tamil Nadu.

• Its important tributaries are the Kabini, the Bhavani and the Amravati.

The Narmada

• The Narmada originates on the western flank of the Amarkantak plateau at a height of about 1,057 m.

• Flowing in a rift valley between the Satpura in the south and the Vindhyan range in the north, it forms a picturesque gorge in marble rocks and Dhuandhar waterfall near Jabalpur.

• After flowing a distance of about 1,312 km, it meets the Arabian sea south of Bharuch, forming a broad 27 km long estuary.

• Its catchment area is about 98,796 sq. km.

• The Sardar Sarovar Project has been constructed on this river.

The Tapi

• The Tapi is the other important westward flowing river.

• It originates from Multai in the Betul district of Madhya Pradesh.

• It is 724 km long and drains an area of 65,145 sq. km.

• Nearly 79 per cent of its basin lies in Maharashtra, 15 per cent in Madhya Pradesh and the remaining 6 per cent in Gujarat.


• Luni is the largest river system of Rajasthan, west of Aravali.

• It originates near Pushkar in two branches, i.e. the Saraswati and the Sabarmati, which join with each other at Govindgarh.

• From here, the river comes out of Aravali and is known as Luni.

• It flows towards the west till Telwara and then takes a southwest direction to join the Rann of

• The entire river system is ephemeral.

Smaller Rivers Flowing Towards the West

• The rivers flowing towards the Arabian sea have short courses because their origins lie closer to the sea, and the Western Ghats act as a water divide.


• The Shetruniji is one such river which rises near Dalkahwa in Amreli district.

• The Bhadra originates near Aniali village in Rajkot district.

• The Dhadhar rises near Ghantar village in Panchmahal district.

• Sabarmati and Mahi are the two famous rivers of Gujarat.


• The Vaitarna rises from the Trimbak hills in Nasik district.

• The Kalinadi rises from Belgaum district and falls in the Karwar Bay.

• The source of Bedti river lies in Hubli Dharwar and traverses a course of 161 km.

• The Sharavati is another important river in Karnataka flowing towards the west.

• The Sharavati originates in Shimoga district of Karnataka and drains a catchment area of 2,209 sq. km.


• Mandovi and Juari.


• The longest river of Kerala, Bharathapuzha rises near Annamalai hills. It is also known as Ponnani.
It drains an area of 5,397 sq. km.

• The Periyar is the second largest river of Kerala. Its catchment area is 5,243 sq. km.

• The Pamba river falls in the Vemobanad lake after traversing a course of 177 km.

Small Rivers Flowing towards the East

• The Subarnrekha, the Baitarni, the Brahmani, the Vamsadhara, the Penner, the Palar and the Vaigai are important rivers.

Comparison between the Himalayan and the Peninsular River

Aspects  Himalayan River Peninsular River
1 Place of origin Himalayan mountain covered with glaciers Peninsular plateau and central highland
2 Nature of flow Perennial; receive water from glacier and rainfall Seasonal; dependent on monsoon rainfall
3 Type of drainage Antecedent and consequent leading to dendritic pattern in plains Super imposed, rejuvenated resulting in trellis, radial and rectangular patterns
Nature of river Long course, flowing through the rugged mountains experiencing headward erosion and river capturing; In plains meandering and shifting of course Smaller, fixed course with well-adjusted valleys
5 Catchment area Very large basins Relatively smaller basin
6 Age of the river Young and youthful, active and deepening in the valleys Old rivers with graded profile, and have almost reached their base levels

The River Regime

• The pattern of flow of water in a river channel over a year is known as its regime.

• The rivers of South India do not originate from glaciers and their flow pattern witnesses fluctuations.

• The north Indian rivers originating from the Himalayas are perennial as they are fed by glaciers through snow melt and also receive rainfall water during rainy season.

• The discharge is the volume of water flowing in a river measured over time

• The Ganga maintains a sizeable flow in the early part of summer due to snow melt before the monsoon rains begin.

• The mean maximum discharge of the Ganga at Farakka is about 55,000 cusecs while the mean minimum is only 1,300 cusecs. It is measured either in cusecs (cubic feet per second) or cumecs (cubic metres per second).

• The flow increases considerably during monsoon rains. Thus, the regime of the rivers of South India is controlled by rainfall which also varies from one part of the Peninsular plateau to the other.

• There are striking differences in the river regimes in the eastern and the western parts of the Ganga Basin.

Extent Of Usability Of River Water

River Water can be used in the following way:
• Construction of dams
• Construction of canals parallel to the river
• Lift irrigation
• Interlinking of rivers
• Construction of check dams

Problems Of River Water Usability:

• No availability in sufficient quantity
• Uneven seasonal flow of water
• River water disputes between states
• River water pollution
• Load of silt in the river water
• Shrinking of channels due to the extension of settlements towards the thalweg.

Why are the rivers polluted?

• Most of the cremation grounds are on the banks of rivers and the dead bodies are sometimes
thrown in the rivers.

• On the occasion of some festivals, the flowers and statues are immersed in the rivers.

• Large-scale bathing and washing of clothes also pollute river waters.
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