The Holy River Ganges

The Holy River Ganges

The Ganges is one of the three main rivers in India. Its headwaters are in the Himalayas. It flows through the great North Indian Plain over a length of 2,700 km. Here the river with its tributaries forms the mighty Ganges plain, which mainly runs from west to east. The Brahmaputra, its largest tributary, flows south from the Assam plain and flows into the lower reaches of the Ganges. Together with him it forms the lowlands of Bengal. The river finally flows into the Gulf of Bengal in the largest river delta in the world. Most of the river delta is in Bangladesh.

The Ganges is the sacred river of the Hindus. Bathing in the Ganges at holy pilgrimage sites is just as much a part of the Hindu ritual as washing the dead in the river before they are cremated.

The Ganges is the main river in the north of India. Its length is 2,700 km. It flows through India and Bangladesh (Fig. 1). In addition to the Ganges, the Indus and the Brahmaputra belong to the great rivers of the subcontinent.

In its course through India, the Ganges flows through two of the country’s three major natural areas: in the northernmost of the natural areas, the Indian Himalayas, the river jumps. Thereafter, it flows through the location between the Himalayas and the plateau of Deccan North Indian plane on which the swing lowland and the gear-Brahmaputra lowland have the largest proportion later.


The Ganges has two headwaters, the Bhagirata and the Alakanada. They arise in the Himalayas at an altitude of around 4,000 m. The Bhagirata gets its water from the Gango Glacier from a height of 4,200 m. In the small town of Devaprayag, both source rivers unite to form the Ganges, which the Hindus consider sacred. That is why the “place of origin” of the Ganges is sacred to the Hindus. In Devaprayag, for example, ritual baths take place in hot springs.

Ganges plain

Coming from the Himalayas, the river flows through the Ganges plain in strong windings in mostly eastern directions and with a slight gradient. The Ganges plain begins west of Delhi on the watershed to the lowlands of the Indus. From there it opens gently to the east, towards Bengal, sloping down to the common delta with the Brahmaputra. It is around 1,500 km long and up to 400 km wide. Other large tributaries also flow here, e.g. B. Yamuna, Kosi and Gandak, in the Ganges.

When they enter the Ganges plain, the tributaries build up huge alluvial fans with the sediments, gravel, sand and suspended matter brought from the Himalayas.

Ultimately, the entire plain as an alluvial plain is the result of the sedimentation activities of the river system of the Ganges.

Bengal lowlands

Below the great knee of the Ganges on the northeastern tip of the highlands of Dekhan, the lowlands of Bengal begin with the confluence of the Ganges and Brahmaputra .

Estuary delta

With around 44,000 km², the river delta of Ganges and Brahmaputra is the largest estuary delta on earth. The two main estuary arms in the delta are the Padma and Hugli. The very low-lying delta is regularly hit by massive floods, which have already claimed tens of thousands of victims among the population. In addition, storm surges also have devastating effects in the unsealed mangrove swamps on the coast.

Due to the enormous amounts of sediment of around 1.8 billion tons annually, the delta is constantly growing out into the Bay of Bengal.

Use of the corridor

The Ganges is navigable to Allahabad around 500 km southeast of Delhi, and for ocean-going ships to Calcutta, which lies on the edge of the delta.

In order to regulate the water flow of the Ganges into the Hugli estuary and to prevent the threatening silting up of the port of Calcutta, the Farakka dam was built right on the border with Bangladesh.

With the construction of the dam, the distribution of the vital Ganges water between India and Bangladesh was contractually regulated. The agreement grants India up to 25% of the Ganges water, even in the low water months from April to May.

Nevertheless, the extensive water abstraction for irrigated agriculture has not remained without consequences for the Ganges. The canal irrigation led to a significant reduction in the flow of water in the Ganges.

In particular, the Upper Ganga Canal to irrigate the intermediate river plate between the Ganges and the Indus (Ganges-Jumna-Doab), which was built in the middle of the 19th century, worsened the situation. The main canal is 342 km long. At the edge of the Himalayas it branches off from the dammed Ganges and feeds a closed canal system of 2,700 km length via numerous side canals. This will irrigate around 700,000 hectares of land and operate three power plants.

In addition, there are increasing annual water level fluctuations in the Ganges and its tributaries.

They are mainly caused by the increased deforestation in the Himalayas. This has led to a reduction in the storage capacity for the monsoon rain in the catchment area of ​​the Ganges and is the cause, among other things. a. for the strong water flow with z. Sometimes catastrophic floods during the rainy season.

The holy river

The Ganges is the holy river of the Hindus, to which a mythical, cleansing and healing power is ascribed. The bath in the Ganges is therefore at the center of every pilgrimage that is part of the religious duties of a Hindu. But also immersing the dead in the river and then burning them on wood fires on the bank is part of the ritual.

Important pilgrimage sites for the Hindus, such as Allahabad and Varanasi, are located on the banks of the Ganges.

The Holy River Ganges

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