Ganges River one of the largest river systems of the world and an important river flowing through India and Bangladesh. The term 'Ganges' is a corrupt form, used by a Greek historian, of the Sanskrit name 'Ganga' by which the river is popularly known throughout the sub-continent. Its drainage basin covers one of the most thickly populated regions of the world, a region where the Indo-Aryan civilisation has flourished for many centuries. It comprises the Ganges and many important affluents, such as the Jamuna, Kali, Karnali, Ramganga, Gandak and the Kosi, all of which rise in the himalayas and are mainly snow-fed. The Ganges proper is formed of two tributaries - the Bhagirathi and the Alakananda.
The Ganges rises near the Tibet-Indian border. The Bhagirathi is accepted traditionally as the original Ganges, although the Alakananda is the larger river. The actual source of the former is Gangotri glacier at an altitude of about 3,900m in the Himalayas. The Gangotri shrine is a few kilometres downstream from Gaumukh. The Bhagirathi joins its western tributary the Jahnavi, a little away to the north of the main Himalayan range and about 11 km below the Gangotri temple. The combined river then cuts through the main Himalayan range through a magnificent gorge in which the riverbed is 3,960m below the peaks on either side.
The river flows in a southeasterly direction across India and crosses the western border of Bangladesh in nawabganj district. Inside the country, flowing almost in the same direction it meets the jamuna (the brahmaputra) at goalondaghat and then further down meets the Meghna at chandpur. From the confluence with the Jamuna to the confluence with the Meghna the river is named padma. The entire course of the Ganges inside Bangladesh is popularly called the Padma, though actually it is not. The Ganges has a total length of about 2,600 km up to its confluence with the Jamuna and a catchment area of about 10,87,400 sq km of which about 46,300 sq km lies within Bangladesh.
The Ganges is the major hydrodynamic system that formed the world's largest delta that occupies a major portion of Bangladesh and a greater part of west bengal in India. In the long history of development of the Ganges Delta, the river shifted southeast and has reached its present position in the Bengal low land. The hydrology and drainage systems of the Ganges Delta in the southwestern part of Bangladesh are intimately related to the mighty Ganges and the fluvio-hydrological setting of the Bengal Basin. The Ganges and its numerous tributaries and distributaries have long been playing an important role in the development of the delta. The deltaic estuaries of the Ganges-Padma-Meghna system drain the combined discharges of these rivers amounting to an average of 35,000 cumec. However, during the monsoon the discharge of Ganges rises to 76,000 cumec with a corresponding increase in its sediment load. The low-level discharge of the river is of the order of 15,000 cumec, and naturally very little sediment is borne by the river during this period. In the deltaic portion the river-width ranges from 1.6 to 8 km and sometimes it shows a braided character though it is a meandering channel.
The delta of the Ganges begins near Gaur, a famous historic city. The present main branch of the river flows in a southeasterly direction and is called the Padma in Bangladesh. A few centuries ago the main channel of the Ganges in the Bengal plain was the Hugly together with its feeders the Bhagirathi, Jalangi and Mathabhanga, called the Nadia rivers in West Bengal. [Kazi Matinuddin Ahmed]
See also ganges-padma river system.