The Ganges is the Longest River in India with a total length of 2525 Km (1569 mi), flowing east from the North-Western Himalayan mountains of Uttrakhand to the Gangetic Plains of North India and into the states of Bihar and West Bengal before finally pouring down into the Bay of Bengal. The Ganges also crosses an International border into Bangladesh and is called ‘Padma’ there.
Although the Brahmaputra is the longest river passing through India with a total length of 3848 Km (2390 mile), it traverses only for 900 Km within Indian boundary, passing through the North-Eastern states of Assam and Arunachal Pradesh, making Ganga the longest river originated and flowing within Indian boundaries.
The Ganges is also the third-largest river by the rate of flow of water after Amazon and Congo. The Ganges is the most sacred river according to Hindu religion and customs. It is a part of almost all the festive occasions of Hindus and is believed to clean the sins of anyone who bathes in it. Throughout its length the river witnesses tremendous religious rituals and activities with many holy cities situated on its banks.
Quick Facts about the Ganges
- The total length of 2525 Kilometers.
- Stands third in terms of water flow after the Amazon and Congo rivers.
- Emerges after the confluence of Bhagirathi and Alaknanda in Dev Prayag, Uttarakhand.
- Mythologically believed to be emerging from the mated head hair of Lord Shiva.
- The Ganges is worshipped as a goddess by Hindus.
- The banks of Ganga are a center for many religious activities.
- Flows southwest till Haridwar then changes its course to the southeast.
- Passes through various states (like Uttarakhand, UP, Jharkhand, Bihar, and West Bengal) as well as through various cities (like Haridwar, Dev Prayaga, Kanpur, Allahabad, Rishikesh, Patna, Varanasi, and Kolkata).
- The Ganges is a transboundary river, entering Bangladesh where it is known as the Padma.
- Ganga is also named ‘Vishnupadi’, as it is believed to be originating from the lotus feet of Lord Vishnu.
- Hindus believe that anyone bathing in the holy waters of river Ganga is purified and his sins forbidden.
- The souls of those, whose ashes are immersed in Ganga, are believed to reach heaven.
- Ganga is supported by an extensive network of tributaries- Ramganga, Yamuna, Tamasi, Ghagra, and Son to name a few.
- It is a major source of irrigation and religious customs.
- Hooghly and Padma are the major distributaries of the Ganges.
- It has a total drainage area of 10 million sq Km.
- Average depth ranging from 17 meters to 100 meters.
- Two major dams at Haridwar and Farraka.
- Total dams on Ganga river basin system are 795.
- Sustains endangered ‘Gangetic River Dolphin’ and ‘Gharial’.
- Threatened by pollution on account of human interference and proximity to cities.
Namami Gange, Ganga Action Plan, and the National River Ganga Basin Authority are some of the flagship projects of the government to clean Ganga.
Origin of Ganges
The Ganges originates from the confluence of Alaknanda and Bhagirathi at Devprayag, a municipality in Tehri Garhwal district in the North-Western state of Uttarakhand. Alaknanda rises in the foot of Satopanth glacier in Uttarakhand, while Bhagirathi originates at Gaumukh (3892 meters) at the foot of Gangotri glacier in Garhwal. On account of being longer than Bhagirathi and also having more discharge, Alaknanda is considered the source stream of Ganga, but Bhagirathi holds much religious importance for Hindus and is more revered.
The name ‘Devparyaga’ has a special meaning in Sanskrit and it holds much religious significance for Hindus. ‘Dev’ is a reference to God, and ‘Prayag’ in Sanskrit means ‘confluence’. ‘Devprayag’ thus becomes the place for the confluence of Gods, or the place where Gods meet, to be more specific. Devprayag has derived its name from sage Dev Sharma who lived his devotional life there. Devprayag has much religious importance for Hindus and is a central place for many religious fests and activities.
Among the two tributaries of Ganges, the Bhagirathi is considered as the sacred and its bank at Devprayag is marked with many temples and religious activities.
The flow of the Ganges
From the confluence of Bhagirathi and Alaknanda, the Ganges begins its journey of 2525 Km passing through the Gangetic plains of Northern India and drenching the states of Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, West Bengal and also an international border with Bangladesh before pouring down in the Bay of Bengal at Sagar Islands at a distance of 100 Kilometers South of Kolkata.
From its beginning at Devprayag in North West to its end in the North-Eastern part of India, the Ganges provides large physical and religious sustenance for the millions living on its banks. The Ganges flow Southwest till the town of Haridwar, where it changes its course to Southeast, entering the Gangetic plains of North India. During its course, the Ganges passes through many important cities which hold tremendous importance in Hindu religion- Devprayag, Rishikesh and Haridwar in Uttarakhand, Kanpur, Allahabad and Varanasi (Kashi or Banaras) in Uttar Pradesh, along with many cities which have also served capitals for various dynasties- Chunar, Mirzapur, Ballia, Buxar, and many others. Varanasi is the most revered by the Hindus and is the most important pilgrimage center located on the banks of river Ganga.
Before reaching Varanasi the Ganges meets the Yamuna at Prayag- Allahabad, which is also a place of religious significance for the Hindus and a venue for Mahakumbh organized every 12 years.
The Ganges flows east from Allahabad till Bhagalpur in Bihar, where it starts flowing southeast and at Pakur in Jharkhand, it branches out into two distributaries- Hooghly and Padma. The Hooghly also is known as Bhagirathi- Hooghly passes through the towns of Kolkata and Howrah before emptying into the Bay of Bengal at Sagar Islands. The main distributary of Ganges is called the Padma in West Bengal and traverses through a course of 120 km before emptying into the Bay of Bengal.
During its complete course of flow, the Ganges is joined by many tributaries adding to its rate of flow. Some of the major tributaries of the Ganges and the places of confluence are given below-
- Ramganga joins the Ganges on its left bank near Kannauj, Fatehgarh, and Uttar Pradesh contributing an annual flow of 500 m3/second.
- The Yamuna at Allahabad contributing about 2900 m3/sec in terms of annual water flow.
- Tamsa at Sirsa, contributing 190 m3/sec water flow annually.
- Gomti contributing 234m3/second waterflow annually.
- Ghaghra at 2990 m3/second annual contribution.
- Son-1000 m3/second.
- Gandak river- 1654 m3/second
- Kosi river- 2166 m3/second
- Jamuna in Bangladesh.
Hindu religion personifies the Ganges as a goddess ‘Ganga’, and Hindu believe that Ganga has the power to purify the sins of anyone bathing in its holy water on certain occasions. Many believe that bathing anytime in the holy waters of Ganges will purify their sins and will help them attain salvation. The banks of Ganges are a site of much religious activity and are marked by a number of temples and pilgrimage centers. It is believed by Hindus that immersing the ashes of the dead in the holy water of Ganga will open their doors to Heaven. The Ganges is also known as ‘Vishnupadi’-emerging from the lotus feet of Lord Vishnu. Ganga is also believed to be the daughter of Himvana (Mountain god) and Mena and therefore the sister of Parvati.
There is an interesting mythological story narrated by the Hindu religion about the appearance of the Ganges on earth. The story starts with a king named Sagara, who magically obtained 60000 sons and performed an Ashvamegha Yagya, which is a horse sacrifice ritual, to please Gods. His horse was stolen by Indra, who was jealous of his achievements. Infuriated by the missing horse he sends his sons to look for it. His sons found the horse near a meditating sage Kapila, who had been meditating there for years. Mistakenly thinking of Kapila as the one who stole the horse, the sons started insulting him. On listening to the commotion, Kapila opened his eyes after many years, burning all the sons of Sagara to death by the glare of his eyes. Devoid of their final rites the souls of Sagara’s sons were left roaming in the valleys.
Bhagiratha, a descendant of Sagar came to know about the plight of Sagara’s sons and pledged to get their souls released to heaven by bringing Ganga for cleaning their souls. He started praying to Brahma for bringing Ganga on earth so that the souls of Sagara’s sons can be purified. Brahma agreed and ordered Ganga to flow down to earth in order to purify the souls of the sons of Sagara and others. An egotistic Ganga took it as an insult and started pouring down on earth with tremendous rage and fury resulting in huge destruction. Fearing the destruction, Bhagiratha started praying Shiva for breaking Ganga’s descent.
Consequently, Shiva obliged by tying Ganga in his head hairs and letting her out in small streams, to subdue her rage and fury and make her more productive and a mean to attain purification and salvation.
FAQ – Frequently Asked Questions
You can get the answer to your questions related to this topic, here:
What is the total length of the Ganges?
The Ganges has a total length of 2525 Km (1569 mi).
Where the Ganges does originate?
The Ganges originates in Devprayag, Uttarakhand.
Which rivers confluence at Devprayag to form Ganga?
Rivers Bhagirathi and Alaknanda confluence at Devprayag to form Ganga.
Is Ganga a seasonal river?
No. Both of the main tributaries of Ganga- Bhagirathi, and Alaknanda derive their water source from Himalayan glaciers.
Does the Ganga have any other names?
Vishnupadi- emerging from Vishnu’s feet.
What makes Ganga so sacred for Hindus?
Hindus believed Ganga to be originating from the hair tuft of the head of Lord Shiva, a revered Hindu deity worshiped throughout India. Besides, it is a site for many religious customs and rituals throughout the year.
Which Indian states does Ganga pass through?
The Ganges pass through the Indian states of Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, and West Bengal.
Does Ganga enter any International boundary?
Yes, the Ganges enters into Bangladesh.
By what name is Ganga called in Bangladesh?
In Bangladesh, Ganga is called by the name ‘Padma’.
What are the main distributaries of Ganga?
Ganga has two main distributaires- Hooghly and Padma.
Which are the major tributaries of Ganga?
Some major tributaries of the Ganges are- Ramganga, Yamuna, Tamsa, Gomti, Ghaghara, Son, Gandak and Koshi.
What major religious cities are located on the banks of Ganga?
Devprayag, Rishikesh, Haridwar, Allahabad, and Varanasi. Varanasi is the religious capital of India and is a famous Hindu pilgrimage center.
Apart from religion, what is the other significance of Ganga?
Ganga is a major source of irrigation for the Northern Gangetic plains; with millions depending directly on the cultivation they yield using water from the Ganges. It is also a major source of electricity through a network of major dams constructed along its course.
How much deep is Ganga?
Ganga has an average depth ranging from 17 meters to 100 meters.
What is the total drainage area of Ganga?
The Ganges has a total drainage area of 10 million sq km.
Do the Ganges support any wildlife?
Many important national parks like- Jim Corbett and Dudhwa National Parks are located along the banks of Ganga. They sustain animals like tiger, elephants and many species of birds and antelopes.
Name some critically endangered species living in the Gangetic waters.
The Ganges shark, the Gangetic river dolphin, and gharial.
How many dams are there in the Ganga basin?
The Ganga river basin has a total of 795 dams.
What are the major dams on the Ganges?
Two major dams at Haridwar in Uttarakhand and Farraka in west Bengal.
Are there any threats to Ganga?
The Ganga is threatened by extreme pollution arising out of sewage from many cities along its banks and also huge religious activities apart from industrial waste.
How serious are the threats?
Very much. The Ganges is faced with extreme pollution along its course. The river believed to purify sins is infested with sewage, filth, industrial waste, littering from religious rituals. At Varanasi, Ganga contains 150 times the allowed quantity of fecal coliform bacteria, a bacterium posing a serious health hazard for humans as well as aquatic life.
What is the ‘Ganga action plan’?
Ganga action plan was launched in 1985 with the sole motive of cleaning Ganga. Since then billions have been spent on the project, but Ganga still remains a sorry state of affairs.
What is NRGBA (National River Ganga Basin Authority)?
NRGBA declares Ganga as the national river and is chaired by the Prime Minister and Chief Ministers of the states through which Ganga passes.
What is ‘Namami Gange Program’?
Namami Gange means bowing (respectfully) to Ganga. It is a flagship project launched by the present NDA government in 2014 to purify Ganga and also to relocate or shut down any industrial establishments threatening its purity. The program has a total allocated budget of 20000 crores.