Holy Rivers in India

India seems to lean to the division by three, for its rivers also follow the pattern. The Himalayan rivers are snow-fed and thus flow continuously — often flooding at monsoon time when the mountains discharge the maximum amount of water; the Deccan rivers depend on rain and thus fluctuate greatly in volume, while the coastal rivers are short and drain little territory. The Ganga (Ganges) is the queen of India’s rivers — her basin drains about a quarter of the country’s entire area. The second largest basin is that of the Godavari which claims about 10% of the total land mass. The Brahmaputra is the most important river in the east, the Indus (Sindhu) in the west, and the Krishna in the south. While the Gangetic plain is well watered by the perennial river system of the Ganges and its tributaries, the Deccan plateau is an upland where, broadly speaking, the rivers become irrigable only at their deltaic mouths. The rivers are considered sacred in India. The holy rivers in India are worshipped through ages by the Hindus.

Ganga: Ganga is the most sacred river of India. It is also the strongest river of the world in the sense that its bottled water does not get defiled for years together. Rivers like Yamuna, Godavari, etc. are all significant and sacred rivers of India but more important is the Ganga. Ganga means many things to many people. To millions of Indians the river washes the sins, to many it gives life giving waters, to traders it has given numerous trading centers that have developed on its banks, to lakhs of farmers it gives renewed fertility every year and to adventurists it renders an opportunity to adventure along its banks. This way Ganga is the mightiest of all the Indian rivers.

According to Puranic literature, Ganga is the daughter of King Himavat and his consort nymph Menka. Sage Bhagirath, the saintly descendant of king Sagara, persuaded Ganga to come down to earth from the heaven, to redeem sixty thousand loose-living sons of the King and Queen Sumati, who had been reduced to ashes by Kapila Muni whom they had treated in a disrespectful manner. Ganga got annoyed on this attempt and Lord Shiva in order to save the earth from her wrath caught Ganga on his brow and checked its course in his matted locks. Then Ganga descended from Shiva’s locks in seven streams (Saptasindhava) but her descent disturbed the meditating sage Jahnu who drank the whole of it but later on allowed it to flow out of his ear and since then Ganga is also known as Jahanavi. Goddess Ganga became the wife of King Shantanu and gave birth to Bhishma. Ganga has variously and metaphorically been described.

Ganga comes out of the Gomukh cave in the vicinity of Gangotri. Though Ganga is said to originate at Gomukh yet Bhagirathi, Mandakini, Alaknanda and Dhauli Ganga and Pindar streams all originating in Uttarakhand are the source streams of the mighty Ganga. All these streams join to form the Ganga at Devaprayag. It is only beyond Devaprayag, the major confluence of Bhagirathi and Alaknanda, that the river is known as Ganga. The Ganga having its catchment area in the snowy Himalaya flows with an average gradient of 9.5 cm per km from west to east. It has been thwarted by the plateau offshoots towards the south. At places the projected spurs and outlines are visible in the districts of Mirzapur, Munger, Bhagalpur and Santhal Parganas.

After traversing about 500 km of mountainous course Ganga enters the plain tract at Haridwar. Passing through the states of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, West Bengal and Bangladesh it falls into Bay of Bengal in the form of many distributaries. Alaknanda is the initial tributary of the Ganga and meets the latter at Dev Prayag. Kedarnath, Badrinath, Gangotri, Dev Prayag, Haridwar, Allahabad, Varanasi and Patna are the important pilgrimage centers of Hindus located on the banks of Ganga. Yamuna, Sharda, Gomati, Ramganga, Ghaghra, Gandak, Kosi, Sone and Damodar are its important tributaries. Brahmaputra also meets the Ganga before falling into the Bay of Bengal. The total length of this mighty river is 2,525 km out of which a 1,450-km lay course lies in Uttar Pradesh alone.

Some great personalities of India have at one time or the other been associated with this mighty river. Sage Bharadwaj, Goswami Tulsi Das, Swami Vivekananda, Swami Ram Tirtha, Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose, Mahatma Gandhi, Jawahar Lai Nehru, Pandit Madan Mohan Malviya and Lai Bahadur Shastri are such personalities.

Yamuna: Yamuna, the second most sacred river of India, is closely associated with the life and works of Lord Krishna. Besides, Narad Muni and great musicians Hari Dass, Tansen, Baiju Bawra have been closely associated with the Yamuna. The Mughal rulers loved the varying moods of the Yamuna and adorned its banks with magnificent buildings like Red Fort at Delhi, the Agra Fort and Taj Mahal, the dream in marble. According to Puranic literature Yamuna is Sun’s daughter and Yama’s sister. Sun is the god of valour and Yama controls death. Therefore, Lord Krishna got most of his determination and strength from Yamuna. The river originated in the post-mid-Miocene age, consequent on the second phase of the upheaval of axial ranges. Its headwaters are formed by several melt streams, the chief of them gushing out of the moraine snout at an altitude of 3225 meters, 8 km north-west of the Yamunotri hot springs.

The river has a very steep gradient in the Himalayan tract but it gradually assumes a gentle to flat profile in the plain area. This is evident from the fact that though it rises at an altitude of 6,387 meters from Bandarpunchh peak on which lies the Yamunotri glacier, the confluence at Allahabad has an altitude of only 94 meters above sea level. For some distance it flows forming a boundary between Uttar Pradesh and Himachal Pradesh. Thereafter, Yamuna forms a boundary between Uttar Pradesh and Haryana. It receives the important tributaries in the form of Chambal, Ken and Betwa. Like Ganga it waters the fields of lakhs of farmers and thus helps in the renewal of soil fertility every year. Mathura is a holy Hindu pilgrimage centre along its banks. The Capital of our great nation is situated along the bank of this river. Agra, the medieval capital of the Mughal rulers, also lies on the bank of this river.

In its mountainous tract it receives many tributaries like the Rishiganga, the Umaganga and the Hanumanganga. The Tons is its largest tributary which rises at an elevation of 3,900 meters and joins Yamuna below Kalsi. At this place the Tons carries twice as much water as carried by the Yamuna. The river Giri which rises near Shimla joins the Yamuna near Paonta. The total length of the Yamuna from Yamnotri to its confluence at Allahabad with Ganga is 1376 km.

Ramganga: The Ramganga is major tributary of the Ganga which rises in Garhwal at an altitude of 3110 meters. It debouches in the plain tract at Kalagarh and after traversing a total length of about 596 km it joins the Ganga at Kannauj. The Aril, the Gargan, the Khoh, the Kosi and the Deoha are its important effluents.

Gomti: The river Gomti rises at a very low altitude of about 200 meters, only about 3 km east of Pilibhit district. The interfluves between Ramganga and Ghaghra are mainly drained by the Gomti. The Barna, the Chuha, the Gachai, the Jomkai and the Sai are its important tributaries. Lucknow, the capital of Uttar Pradesh, is located on the bank of Gomti. The length of its course is about 940 km and it joins the Ganga a bit ahead of Varanasi.

Ghaghra: The Manchu and Karnali in Nepal is known as Ghaghra in Uttar Pradesh. The river rises near Lake Mansarovar. The Sharda or Chauka is its important tributary. Saryu is another important tributary on the bank of which is situated Ayodhya, once the capital of Lord Rama’s kingdom. The stream is notorious for its almost annual flooding of Azamgarh and Balia districts, Rapti and Little Gandak are other tributaries of which the former spills and causes heavy flooding in the eastern districts of Uttar Pradesh. The Ghaghra joins the Ganga a little downstream of Chhapra district in Bihar. This river traverses a course of about 1080 km.

Chambal: The Chambal is another stream which joins the mighty river Yamuna in Uttar Pradesh. The Chambal rises in Vindhyan ranges and traverses for about 965 km before joining the Yamuna near Etawah. Famous historical places like Kota, Bundi, Dholpur etc of Rajasthan are situated on the banks of river Chambal. Flowing through the fertile Malwa tract the river enters a 96 km long gorge at Chaurasigarh. As the river flows much below the banks and due to poor rainfall, severe erosion has occurred over centuries and numerous deep ravines have been formed in Chambal valley. Many of these ravines have also intruded in south- western Uttar Pradesh. Sindh, Parvati, Kunwari, and Pahuj are the important effluents of the Chambal. The Chambal which carries a considerable volume of water during monsoons is reduced to merely a trickle in dry months.