GANGES (Ganga), a great river of northern India, formed by the drainage of the southern ranges of the Himalayas. This mighty stream, which in its lower course supplies the river system of Bengal, rises in the Garhwal state, and falls into the Bay of Bengal after a course of 1500 m. It issues, under the name of the Bhagirathi, from an ice cave at the foot of a Himalayan snow-bed near Gangotri, 10,300 ft. above the level of the sea.
During its passage through the southern spurs of the Himalayas it receives the Jahnavi from the north-west, and subsequently the Alaknanda, after which the united stream takes the name of the Ganges. Deo Prayag, their point of junction, is a celebrated place of pilgrimage, as is also Gangotri, the source of the parent stream. At Sukhi it pierces through the Himalayas, and turns south-west to Hardwar, also a place of great sanctity. It proceeds by a tortuous course through the districts of Dehra Dun, Saharanpur, Muzaffarnagar, Bulandshahr and Farukhabad, in which last district it receives the Ramganga. Thus far the Ganges has been little more than a series of broad shoals, long deep pools and rapids, except, of course, during the melting of the snows and throughout the rainy season. At Allahabad, however, it receives the Jumna, a mighty sister stream, which takes its rise also in the Himalayas to the west of the sources of the Ganges. The combined river winds eastwards by south-east through the United Provinces, receiving the Gumti and the Gogra. The point of junction with both the Gumti and the Gogra has more or less pretension to sanctity. But the tongue of land at Allahabad, where the Jumna and the Ganges join, is the true Prayag, the place of pilgrimage, to which hundreds of thousands of devout Hindus repair to wash away their sins in the sacred river. It is here that the great festival called the Magh mela is held.
Shortly after passing the holy city of Benares the Ganges enters Behar, and after receiving an important tributary, the Sone from the south, passes Patna, and obtains another accession to its volume from the Gandak, which rises in Nepal. Farther to the east it receives the Kusi, and then, skirting the Rajmahal hills, turns sharply to the southward, passing near the site of the ruined city of Gaur. By this time it has approached to within 240 m., as the crow flies, from the sea. About 20 m. farther on it begins to branch out over the level country, and this spot marks the commencement of the delta, 220 m. in a straight line, or 300 by the windings of the river, from the Bay of Bengal. The main channel takes the name of the Padma or Padda, and proceeds in a south-easterly direction, past Pabna to Goalanda, above which it is joined by the Jamuna or main stream of the Brahmaputra. The vast confluence of waters rushes towards the sea, receiving further additions from the hill country on the east, and forming a broad estuary known under the name of the Meghna, which enters the Bay of Bengal near Noakhali. This estuary, however, is only the largest and most easterly of a great number of mouths or channels. The most westerly is the Hugli, which receives the waters of a number of distributary channels that start from the parent Ganges above Murshidabad. Between the Hugli on the west and the Meghna on the east lies the delta. The upper angle of it consists of rich and fertile districts, such as Murshidabad, Nadia, Jessore and the 24 Parganas. But towards its southern base, resting on the sea, the country sinks into a series of great swamps, intercepted by a network of innumerable channels. This wild waste is known as the Sundarbans, from the sundari tree, which grows in abundance in the seaboard tracts.
The most important channel of the Ganges for commerce is the Hugli, on which stands Calcutta, about 90 m. from the mouth. Beyond this city the navigation is conducted by native craft, - the modern facilities for traffic by rail and the increasing shoals in the river having put an end to the previous steamer communication, which plied until about 1860 as high up as Allahabad. Below Calcutta important boat routes through the delta connect the Hugli with the eastern branches of the river, for both native craft and steamers.
The Ganges is essentially a river of great cities: Calcutta, Monghyr, Patna, Benares and Allahabad all lie on its course below its junction with the Jumna; and the ancient capitals, Agra and Delhi, are on the Jumna, higher up. The catchment basin of the Ganges is bounded on the N. by a length of about 700 m. of the Himalayan range, on the S. by the Vindhya mountains, and on the E. by the ranges which separate Bengal from Burma. The vast river basin thus enclosed embraces 432,480 sq. m. According to the latest calculations, the length of the main stream of the Ganges is 1540 m., or with its longest affluent, 1680; breadth at true entrance into the sea, 20 m.; breadth of channel in dry season, 1 to 2 m.; depth in dry season, 30 ft.; flood discharge, 1,800,000 cub. ft. per second; ordinary discharge, 207,000 cub. ft.; longest duration of flood, about 40 days. The average fall from Allahabad to Benares is 6 in. per mile; from Benares to Calcutta, between 4 and 5 in.; from Calcutta to the sea, 1 to 2 in. Great changes take place from time to time in the river-bed, which alter the face of the country. Extensive islands are thrown up, and attach themselves to the mainland, while the river deserts its old bed and seeks a new channel, it may be many miles off. Such changes are so rapid and on so vast a scale, and the corroding power of the current on the bank so irresistible, that in Lower Bengal it is considered perilous to build any structure of a large or permanent character on its margin. Many decayed or ruined cities attest the changes in the river-bed in ancient times; and within our own times the main channel which formerly passed Rajmahal has turned away from it, and left the town high and dry, 7 m. from the bank.
The Ganges is crossed by six railway bridges on its course as far as Benares; and another, at Sara in Eastern Bengal, has been sanctioned.
The Upper Ganges Canal and the Lower Ganges Canal are the two principal systems of perennial irrigation in the United Provinces. The Ganges canal was opened by Lord Dalhousie in 1854, and irrigates 978,000 acres. The Lower Ganges canal, an extension of the original canal, has been in operation since 1878 and irrigates 830,000 acres. The two canals, together with the eastern Jumna, command the greater portion of the Doab lying between the Ganges and the Jumna, above Allahabad. Navigation in either is insignificant.
(T. H. H.*)
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)