Rivers of Madhya Pradesh

Rivers of Madhya Pradesh

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Narmada River

Madhya Pradesh has numerous rivers, the important ones being Narmada, Chambal, Betwa, Shipra, Sone, Mahanadi, Indrawati and Tapti. All these rivers have played a considerable role in making Madhya Pradesh what it is today – be it the cities, the culture, or the ravines.

Narmada - The Lifeline of MP

Earlier known as Reva and Mahakalasuta, the Narmada is also referred to as the lifeline of Madhya Pradesh. Originating in Amarkantak, the highest peak of the Vindhya Range, it flows westward through Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat before finally ending its journey in the Gulf of Khambat. The 1300km long Narmada is the fifth longest river in India, and the oldest. Kalidasa, the 4th century poet, writes about the Narmada in his love poem, Meghdoota, which is about a yaksha (tree spirit) who was banished to Madhya Pradesh. The yaksha sent messages to his beloved in the Himalayas through the clouds.

Two of the most well-known historical cities along the banks of the Narmada are Mahismati (present Maheshwar) and Tripuri (present Tewar in Jabalpur district). Archaeological findings in these regions indicate that human habitation existed here in very ancient times.

There are many fables about the origin of the Narmada. According to one of them, once, Lord Shiva, the Destroyer of the Universe, meditated so hard that he started perspiring. Shiva’s sweat accumulated in a tank and started flowing in the form of a river – the Narmada. Another legend has it that two teardrops that fell from the eyes of Lord Brahma, the Creator of the Universe, yielded two rivers – the Narmada and the Sone.

Chambal River

The 965km long Chambal is the largest and most important river of western MP. This river was referred to as Punya in the 4th century b.c. epic, the Mahabharata, and as Charmanavati in the Puranas which are ancient Hindu texts.It is said that King Ranti Dev (one of the successors of King Bharata, Lord Rama’s brother) had sacrificed cows to honour his guests. The blood that oozed out of the cows’ charmas (skin) turned into a river named Charmanavati.

The river Chambal originates from the Janapav Mountain in the Vindhya Range, and flows northeast through Ujjain, Ratlam and Mandsaur, before entering Rajasthan. It reenters Madhya Pradesh after meandering through parts of Rajasthan and touches Moraina and Bhind. Here are the infamous Chambal Ravines that have been and still are the safest refuge for dacoits.

Tapti/Tapi River

Apart from the Narmada, the Tapti is the only river that flows westward and falls into the Arabian Sea, in the Gulf of Khambat, to be precise. The 724km long Tapti is agriculturally very important as it drains an area of over 65,145sq km spread over Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Gujarat. This river originates at a height of 762m in Betul district of Madhya Pradesh (to the south of the Satpura Range). The Tapti journeys almost parallel to the Narmada, though it is much shorter in length than the Narmada and has a smaller catchment area.

According to the Puranas, ancient Hindu texts, , the Tapti is the daughter of the Sun god, Surya, who created her to save himself from his own intense heat. Tapti is also known as Tapi (taken from the Sanskrit word taap, which means heat). In the Hindu epic, the Mahabharata, it is mentioned that Tapti had married Sanvaran, a legendary hero of the Moon Dynasty. They had a son called Kuru, from whom the Kuru Dynasty started.

Shipra River

The Shipra starts her journey in the Vindhya Range from a hill called Kokri Tekdi situated at a distance of 11km from Ujjain. This river is 195km long, out of which 93km flow through Ujjain. It then touches Ratlam and Mandsaur, before joining the river Chambal. The main tributaries of Shipra are Khan and Gambhir.

The Shipra has been mentioned not only in ancient Hindu texts, like the Puranas, but in Buddhist and Jain scriptures as well. Legend has it that once Lord Shiva, the Destroyer of the Universe, went begging, using the skull of Lord Brahma, the Creator of the Universe, as a begging bowl.

Nowhere in the three worlds did he manage to get any alms. Ultimately, he went to Vaikunth, or the seat of Lord Vishnu, and asked Lord Vishnu for alms. In return, Lord Vishnu showed Lord Shiva his index finger, which enraged the latter. Lord Shiva took out his trishul, or trident, and cut Lord Vishnu’s fingers. The Preserver’s fingers began to bleed profusely, and the blood accumulated in Brahma’s skull and soon overflowed from it. The flow became a stream and finally a river – the Shipra. The Puranas, or ancient Hindu texts, also suggest that the Shipra originated from the heart of Varaha, Lord Vishnu’s incarnation as a boar. Also on the banks of the Shipra is Sage Sandipani’s ashram, or hermitage where the blue god, Krishna, Lord Vishnu’s eighth incarnation, had studied.

Sone River

Sone is also called Maikalsut (whose source is in Maikal) as it originates from a mountain called Amarkantak in the Maikal Ranges. In ancient times, Sone was known as Shona. The Narmada also originates from Amarkantak, though it flows westward, while Sone journeys towards the east. A legend explains why these two rivers flow in opposite directions.

The Legendary Tale

Princess Narmada (the river) was the daughter of King Maikal (the mountain). Maikal announced that the prince who could bring Gulabkawali – a flower supposed to have the power to cure all kinds of eye ailments – would be the ideal match for his daughter. Prince Shona brought Gulabkawali, but he took much longer to get it than he was supposed to. But Princess Narmada was so impressed by the attractive Shona that she decided to marry him and sent her hairdresser, Johila, to inform Shona about her feelings. Prince Shona, who had never seen Narmada, mistook the beautiful Johila to be Narmada and started flirting with her. When Johila didn’t return for a long time, Narmada became impatient and went to see what had delayed Johila.

Seeing Johila with Shona angered Narmada so much that she went away towards the west. When Shona discovered his folly, he jumped off the mountain Amarkantak, in despair, and wandered eastwards through jungles. Later, he returned and married Johila, while Narmada remained a maiden.

One of the major tributaries of the river Ganga, the Sone is 780km long with a drainage basin of 17,900sq km. The Sone joins the Ganga in Danapur in Bihar, and its main tributaries are Johila, Banas and Gopat.


The 857km long Mahanadi originates from a hill in the Sihawa mountain range situated southeast of Raipur. Before ending its journey in the Bay of Bengal, near Cuttack in Orissa, the Mahanadi flows from Raipur via Bilaspur, Bastar and Raigarh in Madhya Pradesh.

On the Mahanadi is one of the largest dams in India – the 4.8km long Hirakud Dam in Sambalpur, Orissa. The tributaries of the Mahanadi are the Shivnath, Hasdo, Mand and the Ib on the left bank, and the Jonk, Ung and Tel on the right bank. In the Matsya and Brahma Puranas, ancient Hindu scriptures, the Mahanadi has been referred to as Chitrotpala.

Betwa River

Originating in the Kumra village in Raisen district of Madhya Pradesh, the river Betwa flows for 380km. After meandering through Madhya Pradesh, it enters the neighbouring state, Uttar Pradesh, and joins the river Yamuna in Hamirpur. The Betwa takes along with it the water of the eastern Malwa plateau. The tributaries of Betwa are Bina, Yamini, Dhasan and Ken. In ancient times, the Betwa was known as Vetrawati.

Indrawati River

Starting from Bastar, this river flows westward for a distance of around 40km before forming the magnificent Chitrakoot waterfalls near Jagdalpur. Indrawati derives its name from Indra, the God of Rain.