Rivers in Mythology Go Back
































Bagmati River

It is also called Bagvati in Vishnu Purana. The Svayambu and the Vardha Purana call it the Vagmati. It is called Bachamati in Buddhist literature, because it was created by the word uttered by Buddha Krakuchhanda when the latter visited Nepal with his disciples from the Gaud-desa. Vdana mentions a river Vaggumuda which flowed to the east of the Vajji territory. This Vaggamuda seems to be the Vagamati of the present time. Baghavati, the name given to this river by Vidyapati seems to have some connection with the word Vyaghra (tiger). Tigers are found in abundance on its banks in the Nepalease Terai.


Bhima River

The Bhima River is also called Punya Damini Bhima. In South India, people give regards to the Bhima River the same way as they do to Ganga. The Bhima River originates from the Sahyadri hills. According to the legends, when Lord Shankar came near Bhima Shankar mountain after killing the demon Tripursur, he found that the Ayodhya’s saintly king Bhimak was under penance at that place. King Bhimak begged for the blessings of Lord Shankar so that a pious river might originate from the sweat of Lord Shankar. Lord Shankar gave the desired blessings and accordingly, a river originated from his sweat. On the name of king Bhimak, this river was called as Bhima River. The river joins Krishna at Kurugadi in district Raipur, which is 25 km away from Gulbarg. A jyotirling (glorified symbol of Lord Shiva) namely, Bhima Shankar, and a religious place, namely Pandarpur, are located on the banks of this river.


Brahmaputra River

The Brahmaputra River has a male name whereas all other majors rivers of India have female names. According to legends, Brahmaputra is the son of Lord Brahma. It is said that Shantanu, a famous ancient sage began a long meditation in an ashram in this area along with his beautiful wife Amodha. Amodha was so beautiful that Lord Brahma himself became enchanted by the beauty of Amodha and requested her to make love with him. But Amodha did not accept the Brahma’s proposal. However, by that time Lord Brahma had become so excited that his semen discharged at that place. When Shantanu came to know about this, he inseminated the Brahma’s semen in the womb of Amodha. Subsequently, Amodha gave birth to a son and he was called Brahmaputra. The tank near the ashram of sage Shantanu is known as the Brahmkund. Another legend is that because Brahmaputra is the largest river in India, it carries a male name.


Chambal River

The ancient name of Chambal River was Charmanvati, meaning the river on whose banks leather is dried. In the ancient times, large scale Yagya (prayer meetings in which also involve offerings to please God) used to be organized on the banks of this river and in these Yagyas animals were slaughtered and offered. According to Mahabharata, the color of river water would become red due to the flow of blood of the sacrificed animals and the skins of these animals were dried on the banks of the rivers. In due course of time, this river became famous as the river of ‘chamda’ (skin) and was named as Charmanvati.


Chandan River

It was also known by the name of ‘Malini’ and ‘Chandana’. It is known as ‘Chamba’ in the Buddhist literature. According to the Kshetra Samasa, this river is called Sulakshini or Chandravati. According to the Jinavitasa, this river is named Aranyavaha or the torrent through the wilderness.


Gandak River

In the Muzaffarpur District of Bihar, this river is known as the Narayani and Saligramini. Ramayana mentions this river under the name of Kalimahi. The river is said to have been formed from the sweat of the cheeks of Vishnu when he performed austerities near its source. Artemidoras speaks of a certain affluent of the Ganga as breeding crocodiles and dolphins. He named it Oidenes. At the present time, Gandak is the only tributary of Ganga which breeds crocodiles. The Puranic tale of Gajehrajeha (fight between the elephant and crocodiles) is said to have taken place at its junction with the Ganga. Therefore, Oidenes of Artemedoros is no other than the Gandak.


Ganga River

The Ganga River has been considered as the most sacred river of India in Puranas. The word Ganga is considered as a synonym of pure and holy water. That is why the word is attached with the names of many other rivers in Central and South India. According to a mythological legend, Lord Brahma collected the sweat of Lord Vishnu’s feet and created Ganga. Being touched by two members of the Trimurti (Brahma, Vishnu, and Mahesh), Ganga became very holy. The other synonyms of Ganga are Vishnu Padee (as the river is said to have originated from the feet of Lord Vishnu), Mandakini, Devnadi, Sursari, Tripathga, Jahanvi, Bhagirathi, etc. As mentioned in Mahabharat, when Bhishm was about to die, Arjuna was said to have extracted groundwater, namely, Patalganga, by shooting an arrow which made a hole in the ground and created a fountain.

The description of Ganga is available in Rigveda also. Several legends are famous about the origin of Ganga. It is said that the Ganga has originated from foots of Lord Vishnu. According to the second legend, Ganga was the daughter of mountain king Himalaya. As per Devi Bhagwat, Ganga has been called the wife of Lord Vishnu. According to Mahabharat, Ganga was the wife of King Shantanu as well as the mother of Bhishm.

According to a legend in the Ramayana, Sagara, the king of Ayodhya who had sixty thousand sons, once performed Ashvamegh yagya (a ritual for the good of his kingdom and to demonstrate his supremacy). During the rituals, the horse which is an integral parts of the ritual, was stolen by the jealous Indra and placed in the ashram (hermitage) of saint Kapila. Sagara sent all his sons all over the earth to search for the horse. They found it in the nether world, in the ashram of saint Kapila. Assuming that the sage had stolen the horse, they hurled insults at him and interrupted his meditation. The saint became very angry and burnt all sixty thousand boys to death by the fire from his eyes. Since the final rites of these boys could not be performed, their souls continued to wander as ghosts. After many generations, Bhagiratha a descendant of Sagara, learnt about the fate of his ancestors and he vowed to bring Ganga to Earth so that her holy water could be used to liberate the souls of his ancestors and release them to heaven.

King Bhagirath left his kingdom to meditate and prey the Ganga River who was residing in the heavens to descends to the earth. Ganga could come down to the earth only after Lord Brahma (the Supreme God) permitted her to do so. Accordingly, Bhagirath prayed at a place in Uttarkashi where the Gangotri temple is situated these days. He prayed to Lord Brahma for a thousand years, requesting him to permit Goddess Ganga to come down to earth from heaven because only Ganga could release his ancestors’ souls and allow them to go to heaven. On account of deep devotion of Bhagirath, ultimately Lord Brahma was pleased with him and granted his wish. But He told Bhagirath to pray to Lord Shiva, who alone could sustain the huge force of descent of Ganga. Accordingly, King Bhagirath prayed to Lord Shiva who, after some time, agreed to hold Ganga in his hair.

Accordingly, Ganga descended from heavens on Lord Shiva’s head and was soon trapped in his thick locks. In the process, the river water got further purified. One the request of King Bhagirath, Lord Shiva opened one of the locks and the river reached the Earth. It is said that Ganga followed the chariot of Bhagirath to the place where the ashes of his ancestors were lying and released them from the curse. Alert reader will notice that this legend is a simple description of the hydrologic cycle. Perhaps King Bhagirath was an ancient civil engineer or a hydrologist!

Since Bhagirath brought Ganga to Earth, one headwater stream of Ganga is known as Bhagirathi. Further, the Hindi term Bhagirath prayas describes valiant efforts or difficult achievements of a person.

Ganga is also known by another name: Jahnavi. According to a different mythological story, when Ganga came down to earth long time ago, her fast moving waters created turbulence and destroyed crops in the fields. She also disturbed the meditation of a saint named Jahnu. Now, Jahnu was so much angry that he drank up all the water Ganga. This made the Devtas (semi-Gods) very sad and they prayed to Jahnu to release Ganga so that she could proceed on her mission. After their persistent prayers, Jahnu was pleased and he released Ganga water through his ears. On account of this, Ganga came to known by the name “Jahnavi” (daughter of Jahnu) also.

Kumbh Mela which is the largest religious gathering on Earth (attended by more than 80 lakh devotees) takes place after every 12 years at two places on the banks of Ganga River

Ghaghara River

The name Ghaghara seems to have originated from the Sanskrit word Ghaghara a gurgling sound of water. Flow of this river used to produce this kind of sound.


Godavari River

Godavari is the largest river in Peninsular India and third largest in India. Godavari is held in reverence as “Vridha Ganga” or “Dakshin Ganga”. Holy places are located on the banks of the river at Nasik and Bhadrachalam.


Hooghly River

Shahjahan (the mughal king of Delhi) permitted the Portuguese to do trading in Bengal and they built a church in Bengal in 1590. The grass that grew around the Church was Hugla, and hence the name given to nearby river became Ogolin. With the passage of time, it became Oglee and eventually Hooghly.


Indus River

In Rig Veda, the deitified Sindhu is praised in many verses. Although some historians believe that the word Sindhu means a sea, the widely held view is that it refers to the Indus River. Therefore, Sindhu may be taken to mean the Indus River which is described as donor of gifts and owner of fertile fields. Our country came to be called Hindustan or India; these words are derived from the name Indus or Sindhu. The Sindh province of Pakistan derives its name from this river. Its name also figures in the national anthem of India. In the valley of this river rose the Indus Valley Civilization, which is the most ancient and highly developed civilization of this planet. A unique feature of this civilization is that it still survives despite numerous setbacks. Many web-sites (e.g., www.harappa.com, www.archaeolink.com) and books contain detailed information about the Indus Valley Civilization.


Kaveri River

The Kaveri is known to devout Hindus as Dakshina Ganga, or the Ganges of the south, and the whole of its course is holy ground. According to the legend a girl named Vishnumaya or Lopamudra, the daughter of Brahma was born on earth. Her divine father permitted her to be regarded as the child of Kavera-muni, a mortal. In order to obtain beatitude for her adoptive father, she resolved to become a river whose waters should purify all sin. Hence it is said that even the holy Ganges resorts underground once in the year to the source of the Cauvery, to purge herself from the pollution contracted from the crowd of sinners who have bathed in her waters.


Kosi River

The Kosi River is a notorious river in the Ganga basin for changing its course. The river can be compared with the rivers of China which suddenly wash away large tracts of land. Cunningham identified this river with the Tista. According to Ramayana the river was named after Kausiki who was the sister of the sage Vishvamitra. Like her brother, she was a lady of short temper.


Krishna River

Krishna is a mighty east flowing river of peninsular India. It is the same river as Krsnavena in the Puranas or Krsnaveni in the Yoginitantra. It is also known as Kanhapenna in Jatakas and Kanhapena in the Hathigumpha inscription of Kharavela. The word Krishna also indicates dark color.


Lohit River

In the Assamese language, Lohit River is known as Luit. The word Luit comes from a Sanskrit word Lohitya meaning red river. When the red soil of this region would get eroded by the rain water and flow in the river, the river water would turn red and this gave the river its name. According to a legend, Ram who was the grandson of Maharshi Bhrangu and the son of Rishi Jagdagni, was a bright and obedient child. Once Renuka, the wife of Rishi Jagdagni, came to the banks of the river to fetch water. There she saw Chitrataka, a gandharva (semigod) playing with his wives. Seeing this, Renuka’s mind also got enamoured. When Rishi Jagdagni came to know about it, he was very angry and he ordered his son to kill his mother. The obedient son chopped his mother’s head by a parshu (sharp axe) but the parshu got stuck to his hands. He tried many things, including long pilgrimages, but the parshu could not be removed. It finally came off when he took a bath in the Lohit River. In this process, Ram came to be known as Parshuram and the river which became red due to the blood of his mother was known as the Lohit River.


Mahanadi River

The literal meaning of Mahanadi River is large size river. The originating place of Mahanadi River, which is called as holy Ganga in Chhatisgarh and Orrisa is located near the Ashram of Maharshi Shrangi. It is said that once all the sages of this area came at this place for taking holy bath in Mahakumbh. The Maharshi was under meditation and penance at that time. The sages waited for several days to draw the attention of the Maharshi but the Maharshi’s meditation was not disrupted. Thereafter, the sages went for the holy bath. While returning after the bath, all the sages brought some holy water with them. Finding that Maharshi Shrangi was still in the meditation, they filled the Maharshi’s kamandal (vessel) with water, and returned to their native places. After some time, when the meditation of the Maharshi Shrangi was disrupted, the water of the kamandal fell down on the ground with the stroke of his hand. This water began to flow towards east and was converted into a stream. This stream was called as Mahanadi which is said to fulfill the desires of millions of people.


Mahi River

In Vayu Purana, this river is also known as Mahati. The name of the river seems to be derived from the lake from which it springs. This is often called the Mau or Mahu as well as the Menda. According to one legend, the Mahi is the daughter of the Earth and sweat of Indrdyumna, the King of Ujjain.


Narmada River

Narmada is also known as Narbada (Nerbudda). It is also called Reva. The name Reva has been mentioned in Puranas which has probably been derived from the Sanskrit root ‘rev’ to ‘hop’ owing to the leaping of the stream down its rocky bed. The Narmada River is also known by a few other names such as: Daksinaganga mentioned in Skanda Purana, Indija, Purvaganga, Mekaladrija, Mekalasutra or Mekalakanyaka (Amarakosa) and Somabhava. There are many legends regarding the origin of the Narmada. According to the one recorded by Beglar, Narmada was the name of the beautiful daughter of a shepherd living at the Amarkantaka. She used to carry her father’s breakfast to him in the fields where he tended his cattle. On her way to and back from her father, the girl used to spend some time daily in a Yogin’s (a person who practices Yoga) company whose ashram was by the road side. After sometime, the girl killed herself for some unexplained reasons. One day the Yogin, while in act of drinking bhang (a kind of drink), heard about the death of the poor girl. The cup of bhang stuck to his mouth and he died. A stream of water issued from his throat which is the Narmada River.

Another version is that the girl, finding herself pregnant with a child, committed suicide by throwing herself over the falls of Kapiladhara, and the river in which she died was named after her. According to another legend, the Narmada River sprang from the body of Lord Shiva.

Pennar River

The Pennar or the Uttara Pinakini is one of the major rivers of Indian peninsula flowing east and draining into Bay of Bengal. It is locally known as Penneru; it is also called ‘Henne’ which means Penna in Telugu language. The name Pinakini is associated with ‘Pinaka’ the bow of Siva or Nandeeswara, the presiding deity of Nandi hills, the place of origin of the river.


Pun-Pun River

This river is mentioned in the Vayu and the Padma Puranas in connection with Gaya Mahatmya as the Punah-punah (again and again) of which Pun-Pun is the colloquial form. The river might have been called by this name because it was frequently in spate. The Puranas interpret the word Punahpuna in a spiritual sense, i.e., sins are removed again and again by offering oblations to the Pitras (forefathers) in the river.

Sarayu River

According to the Buddhist literature, the Sarayu or Sarju River is spelt as “Sarabh”. Cunningham, in one of his maps, identified the Sarju with the Solomattis River mentioned by Megasthenes. Ptolemy names a river Sarobes which is identified by all scholars with the Sarayu.


Sipra River

The Sipra River is also called Ksipra (Markandeya). It flows in the State of Madhya Pradesh. The river is famous for the sanctity associated with it. According to the legend, the river has originated from the blood of Lord Vishnu. In the time of Mughal King Akbar (15th century), it was believed that the river used to flow with milk. Probably this means that the region where it flowed was very prosperous.


Sindh River

In Vishnu Purana, the Dasarna River in Sindh has been identified as Sindhu River. The Sindh River is generally believed to be identical with the Kali Sindh River. Mahabharat refers to it as Daksinasindh. The Meghdoot refers to Kalisindh as Sindh. In Varaha Purana the Kalisindh River has been called as Sindhupurana.


Sone River

It has another name in Amarkosha where it is called Hiranyavaha because either its sand was of golden colour or because the river carried gold dust in its flow. In Hindi, gold is called Swarna or Sona which changes to Sone with the passage of time.


Subarnarekha River

Subarnarekha was earlier known as Hiranyarekha. Both these words mean a golden streak. The name shows that the river brought gold in its flow and this belief still persists among the local people.


Tapi River

Also known by the name Tapti, Tapi was a daughter of Sun. Ptolemy named it Nanagouna. It is believed that Tapi rises from the sacred tank of Multai (Mulatapi, i.e., the source of Tapi). The Tapi has its name derived from tapa, ‘heat’ and according to local Brahmanas, it was created by the Sun to protect himself from his own warmth.


Teesta River

The literal meaning of the word Teesta is Trishna (desire) which never ends. In the Pali language, Teesta is called as Tanda. The legend of the Teesta River is mentioned in Kalika Purana. Among the other rivers of northern India,

Teesta River is also called as the younger daughter of Himalaya. There is a legend about it in Kalika Purana. It is said that once Lord Shiva became pleased from the hard penance of the demons and gave them blessings. That particular demon was the devotee of Lord Shiva but he did not like Goddess Parvati, the wife of Lord Shiva. Parvati took this as an insult to her. As a result, a war started between the demon and Parvati. The demon was injured in the war and he was feeling thirsty. He requested Lord Shiva to save his life by quenching his thirst. Lord Shiva became pleased and from his inspiration, a stream of nectar like milky water started flowing from the Parvati’s breast. This stream was called as Teesta River and this river is fulfilling the desires of the people even today

Tungabgadra River

Tungabhadra is a famous river of South India. It is also called Dhatri (midwife) of Vedas. While the Vedas were written in ‘saptsindhav’ or the country of seven rivers, their bhashya was written on the banks of Tungabhadra.

There is a legend about the origin of Tungabhadra River in Skand Purana. It is mentioned that once Lord Barah (an incarnation of Lord Vishnu who brought the Earth out of the pool of water after the great deluge) was resting at Barah Parvat. Suddenly, from his two front teeth, water started dropping. This water was converted into two streams. The stream originated from the left tooth was called as Tunga and the stream originated from the right tooth was called as Bhadra.

The Tunga and Bhadra rivers are known as the sisters and they join together at Kundly and flow as the Tungabhadra River. Tungabhadra finally joins Krishna River, which is called as mother of these rivers. Its water is considered to be the best drinkable water in the world.

Yamuna River

The Yamuna River is regarded as sister of Yama, the God of death. Bana in his epic Kadambari calls the Yamuna River as Kalindi, because its water appears to be dark. People believe that those who take bath in the waters of this river become free from the fear of death.