Throughout human history, rivers have been of immense importance. River water is a fundamental natural resource that is required for a variety of human endeavors.

Riverbanks have drawn inhabitants from prehistoric times. It is especially important for a country like India, where agriculture is the primary source of income for the majority of its inhabitants, to use rivers for irrigation, navigation, and hydropower generation.The Indian rivers are divided into two major river systems:

  • The Himalayan rivers
  • The Peninsular rivers

The differences between the two river systems are discussed further.


 The Himalayan River System

 The Peninsular River System


The origin of these rivers is from Himalayan Ranges and are thus named so. 

The origin of these rivers is Peninsular plateau and names after it. 

Catchment area

Large catchment areas and basins surround these rivers. The Indus, Ganga, and Brahmaputra have respective basin areas of 11.78, 8.61, and 5.8 lakh square kilometers.

These rivers have constrained catchment areas and basins. With only 3.12 lakh square kilometers, or less than one-third of the Indus' basin, the Godavari has the largest basin area.


The rivers of the Himalayas travel through gorges, which are deep valleys with a V-shape. These gorges were formed by down cutting that occurred concurrently with the Himalayas' rise.

The rivers of the Peninsula run through relatively small valleys. These valleys have been roughly entirely graded. There is hardly much erosion activity in the rivers.

Drainage Type

Antecedent drainage system (A section of a river's slope and the surrounding region is elevated, and the river remains on its original slope)

Consequent drainage system(When the river flows generally in the direction of the slope)  

Water Flow

The Himalayan rivers are perennial, which means that water runs through them all year round. These rivers receive water from snowmelt as well as the monsoons. These rivers are useful for irrigation since they are perennial.

Rainfall is the exclusive source of water for peninsular rivers and thus their water flow is  affected seasonally.  These rivers are therefore transient or seasonal and therefore these rivers are significantly less effective for irrigation. 

Stage of Fluvial Cycle

As these rivers flow through young fold mountains,they  form several landforms of youthful stage.

These rivers flow through one of the oldest plateaus and have reached the mature stage of fluvial cycle.

Meander Formation

The rivers in the Himalayas are extremely winding in their upper reaches. The pace of the water flow abruptly decreases as they approach the plains. These conditions cause these rivers to meander and frequently shift their beds.

The plateau's non-alluvial terrain and hard rock surface limit the potential for meander formation. Because of this, the rivers in the Peninsular Plateau run in rather straight lines. 

Deltas and Estuaries  

At their mouths, the rivers of the Himalayas create large deltas. The largest delta in the world is the Ganga-Brahmaputra delta,also known as Sunderban Delta.

Estuaries are created by a few of the peninsula's rivers, including the Narmada and the Tapi.

Deltas are created by other rivers like the Mahanadi, Godavari, Krishna, and Cauvery.

Without forming a delta, a number of minor streams originate from the Western Ghats and head west into the Arabian Sea.