“All rivers, even the most dazzling, those that catch the sun in their course, all rivers go down to the ocean and drown. And life awaits man as the sea awaits the river.” ― Simone Schwarz-Bart. Rivers are thus, the naturally flowing waterbody supplying freshwater across its path before it merges with the sea or disappears into the soil. It is the vitalising natural entity on earth carrying life and shaping civilizations since ages.
Any waterbody adds charm to any place and when it is a river the beauty gets multiplied to a thousand folds. Rivers are the lifeline supporting many ecosystems within and along the course of their flow. It creates life and provides livelihoods to many. Rivers have essentially become the backbone of the economy and the country. There is always great dependability of Man on Rivers since the birth of civilization.
Since ages, many ancient civilisations flourished beside the rivers some of the well-known civilizations being the Mesopotamian Civilization beside the Tigris and Euphrates, the Egyptian Civilization beside the river Nile and our very own Indus Valley Civilization on the Indus basin. Rivers provided easy access to resources like drinking water, food and mode of transport, which in turn supported other tertiary needs of human.
With the Indus Valley Civilization marking the beginning of dependency on river-based life, Indians have depended upon its various river for life support. While writing my previous post on Monsoon, I thought of integrating the river part in it but later decided to dedicate a separate post to it as I have so much to say about the rivers and especially the Rivers of India.
Every river is different from the other but their origin falls into similar categories. The source of the river or the headwaters either come from melted snow or glacier or spring or lake and sometimes they are rain-fed. Rivers then travel down the topography and in course joined by many other streams and rivers to finally meet the sea at the river mouth which is so-called because of the tidal influence leading to entry and exit of a huge amount of seawater into the river.
Rivers have always enticed me with its mystic charm. The rapidly flowing water body just like a cheerful little girl rushes down its path spreading her gleeful charm all around lightning the mood and the soul. The gently meandering course of the same young river that has gained some thickness now slows down its pace like a mature middle-aged lady gracefully gliding by. Then the calm, vast river bed of the same river now old and burdened by the debris it collected on its way, drain off into the sea just like an aged woman who has gathered a lot of wisdom in her long life counts her final days.
Rivers have three stages in its course of flow – the Upper course known as the Youthful stage, the Middle course known as the Mature stage and the Lower course known as the Old Age stage. The first stage is the beginning of the river where the young, swift, tumbling narrow stream cuts down the rock in the mountains forming V-shaped valleys and waterfalls carrying pebbles and rocks. In the middle course, it widens and slows down meandering through the plains causing erosion and deposition as well. In the lower course, at the end of its journey, the river reaches its maximum width depositing silts at the river mouth forming deltas before meeting the sea.
There are various uses of a river – it is a constant source of the freshwater used for drinking, it provides water for irrigation and industrial purposes, it helps in building dams and thus generating hydroelectricity, it helps in providing alluvial land for cultivation, it is visually pleasing and it also provides for various recreational activities, it helps in transportation, over and above it is the primary entity of the water cycle.
Rivers drain huge amounts of water into the seas maintaining the salinity of the seawater. The seawater evaporates constantly forming moisture-laden clouds which pass over the land to bring in the rains and thus the Monsoon (read my post on Monsoon). This helps in replenishing the freshwater supply in the land. The water cycle is the movement of water in various forms in the land, air and sea.
Coming back to India and its rivers, we can say that our country is a River-based country with numerous rivers originating in the country and ending here too, some are international while some are just regional. The northern, central and the north-eastern part of India is drained by the Indus River System, The Ganges River System and the Brahmaputra River System. The Aravali Range River System (comprising of rivers like Luni, Sabarmati, Dohan, Krishnavati, Chambal, Banas and others) originating from the Aravali Range caters to the western part of the country. The Peninsular River System comprising of the Mahanadi, Narmada, Krishna, Cauvery and others drain the Peninsular part of India.
India is blessed with major perennial rivers like Ganga and Brahmaputra. The river basin together has a huge rate of average discharge into the sea and is placed just after the Amazon in South America and Congo in Africa. Rivers are not only considered important here due to the benefit it provides but it is also considered sacred by the Hindus. River Ganges is the most revered river while the other sacred rivers are the Yamuna, Saraswati, Narmada, Kshipra, Godavari and Cauvery. Other than these well-known rivers many other rivers are also considered holy and many legends are associated with them.
River Ganges apart from being sacred is also the longest transboundary river in the Indian subcontinent and has an interesting legend linked to it (read about the legend here.) It originates from the Gangotri glacier and travels through the central and eastern part of India before draining into the Bay of Bengal forming the largest delta in the world – the Sunderban Deltas. The Ganges river system is widespread and the major river system in the country. It is comprised of many other small to large rivers.
River Yamuna, originating from Yamunotri flows parallel to the Ganges before merging with it in Allahabad. River Saraswati is a mythical river mentioned in the Rigveda (ancient Hindu religious scripture) that too merges in the Ganges in Allahabad forming the Triveni Sangam. River Chambal and Betwa flows from Madhya Pradesh and Uttarpradesh before joining the Yamuna. Other major tributaries of the Ganga are Ghagra, Gandak, Kosi, Gomti (a holy river) and Son (the largest of the tributaries). River Brahmaputra merges with the Ganges in Bangladesh to form a massive yet short lengthed river called the Padma.
The transboundary Brahmaputra River System with the Brahmaputra as its major river originating in Tibet as the Yarlung Tsangpo flows through China, before entering India through Arunachal Pradesh then flowing through Assam before entering Bangladesh as Jamuna. Teesta is the major tributary of the river system joining the Brahmaputra in Bangladesh. Some of the other rivers in this river system are Siang, Dibang, Lohit and others.
The Indus River System comprises of Indus as the major river originating from Kailash Range further joined by Sutlej, Jhelum, Chenab, Ravi, Beas, Shyok and Zanskar. The Ganges, Brahmaputra and the Indus river system originates from the Himalayan Ranges while in the Peninsular River system, the major rivers originate from the Western Ghats. The Peninsular River System comprises of rivers like Mahanadi, Godavari, Krishna, Cauvery, Tungabhadra and others. These rivers joined by other smaller to larger stream flow eastwards due to the gradient of the land and drain into the Bay of Bengal. Many of these rivers make deltas at their mouths.
While the Periyar, Bharathappuzha, Pamba, Netravati, Sharavathi, Mandovi and Zuari river are small fast-flowing rivers that flows westwards draining into the Arabian Sea. These rivers are fast-flowing due to the steeper gradient of the Ghats. They often tend to form estuary before meeting into the sea. The other major tributaries are Kali, Bhadra, Bhavani, Bhima, Malaprabha, Ghataprabha, Hemavathi and Kabini rivers.
Thus the network of rivers has provided the framework for human settlement in India in olden days and presently these settlements have transformed into major cities like Rishikesh, Haridwar, Allahabad, Varanasi, Patna, Kolkata all on the banks of the river Ganges, New Delhi, Agra on the bank of the river Yamuna, Guwahati on the banks of Brahmaputra, Srinagar on the banks of Jhelum, Lucknow on the banks of Gomti, Pune on the banks of Mula and Mutha, Nashik on the banks of Godavari, Ahmedabad on the banks of Sabarmati and the long list goes on.
Humans have harnessed rivers to their benefits – for drinking water, for household use, for cultivation, for industrial purposes, for hydroelectricity, for transportation, for fishing and for recreation. With the rivers being used in a faceted way, it bears the brunt of human misuse. The growing river pollution is one of the major impacts of misuse. Untreated sewer and toxic industrial waste are regularly released into the rivers. Religious sanctification and other rituals also have a good amount of contribution to polluting the rivers. Other minor factors include the laundry work, drain-off water from cultivable lands carrying fertilisers and other chemicals.
Construction of Dams also has a major impact on the river ecosystem. The aquatic life is hampered as it stops fish migration for those species that have different spawning and rearing habitat. Damming a river also traps the sediment it carries downstream impacting the formation of fertile floodplains, barrier islands and deltas. It converts a free-flowing waterbody to an artificial reservoir system. Dams are a necessity but it comes with a great cost associated with it.
Dams that are used to control flood often leads to devastating floods during the monsoon. A heavy monsoon often leads to the swelling of the rivers and in turn triggers the release of massive amounts of water from the dams downstream causing havoc for man, animal and property. A river that was once a blessing turns into sorrow for all. Humans have little to no control on natural calamities but we can stop the abuse of river and regard it as the greatest blessing on Earth. Proper river management is required to save the river and in turn, save ourselves and all other lives dependant on the river ecosystem.
I have been fortunate enough to travel to many parts of India and in the course see different rivers that run across the country. No two river is similar, every river has its different identity in its course of flow, pattern, shape and character. I have always been fascinated by rivers. I may not be too sporty to take the challenge of any recreational activity like rafting or kayaking but I love to silently watch the river flowing by, I love to fetch a sailing boat on the bouncy waves of the river, I love to dip my feet into its cool water, I love to hear its gurgling song, I love to feel the misty breeze, I love rivers in every stage in every place in an unspoilt condition. So I decided to write a post on the Rivers of India with a few pictures from my collection of rivers.