Narmada River

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Author:Laxman Burdak, IFS (Retd.)

Narmada River

Narmada River (Hindi: नर्मदा, Gujarati: નર્મદા), also called the Rewa River, is a river in central India. It is the third longest river that flows entirely within India, after the Godavari River, the Ganga River and the Krishna River.

Variants of name


Narmada is also known as "Life Line of Madhya Pradesh" for its huge contribution to the state of Madhya Pradesh in many ways. It forms the traditional boundary between North India and South India and flows westwards over a length of 1,312 km before draining through the Gulf of Cambay into the Arabian Sea, 30 km west of Bharuch city of Gujarat.[1] It is one of only three major rivers in peninsular India that run from east to west (longest west flowing river), along with the Tapti River and the Mahi River.

It is one of the rivers in India that flows in a rift valley, flowing west between the Satpura and Vindhya ranges. The other rivers which flow through rift valley include Damodar River in Chota Nagpur Plateau and Tapti. The Tapti River and Mahi River also flow through rift valleys, but between different ranges. It flows through the states of Madhya Pradesh (1,077 km), and Maharashtra, (74 km – 35 km) then along the border between Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra (39 km) and the border between Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat and in Gujarat (161 km).[2]

The Periplus Maris Erythraei (c. 80 AD) calls it the Nammadus,[3] and the British Raj called it the Nerbudda or Narbada.[4]

Narmadā is a Sanskrit word meaning "the Giver of Pleasure".[5]

Tej Ram Sharma[6] writes that By the second century A.D., the last limit of the composition of the Manu-smrti, the wider outlook of Aryavarta was popular. It was the name of the tract extending from the Eastern to the Western Ocean, and bounded on the north and south by the Himalaya and Vindhya respectively. 694 This is supported by the Kavyamimamsa of Raja Sekhara. [7] Rajasekhara speaks of the river Narmada as the dividing line between Aryavarta and the Daksinapatha. [8]

The river was mentioned by Ptolemy in the second century AD as Namade[9] and by the author of the Periplus.

Moreover the region which is next to the western part of India, is called Indoscythia. A part of this region around the (Indus) river mouth is Patalena, above which is Abiria. That which is about the mouth of the Indus and the Canthicolpus bay is called Syrastrena. (...) In the island formed by this river are the cities Pantala, Barbaria. (...) The Larica region of Indoscythia is located eastward from the swamp near the sea, in which on the west of the Narmada river is the interior city of Barygaza emporium. On the east side of the river (...) Ozena-Regia Tiastani (...) Minagara". [10]

Two thousand years ago, there was a small town known as "Ankottaka" (present day Akota) on the western bank of the river Vishwamitri. The earliest mention of Vadodara is in a granth or charter of 812 that identifies it as Vadapadraka, a village attached to the nearby town of Ankottaka. In 600 AD, severe flooding of the Narmada River forced the inhabitants to move to its eastern side to a village known as Vatpatrak (literally, leaf of banyan tree) which developed into Vadodara. In the 10th century, Vadapadraka replaced Ankottaka as the main town.

The Ramayana,[11] the Mahabharat, and the Puranas refer to it frequently. The Rewa Khand of Vayu Purana and the Rewa Khand of Skanda Purana are entirely devoted to the story of the birth and the importance of the river, and hence Narmada is also called the Rewa.

Tej Ram Sharma[12] writes that Narmada (नर्मदा) finds mention in Eran Stone Pillar Inscription of Budhagupta (484-485 CE) (L.3) along with Kalindi: "And while Surashmichandra is governing, with the qualities of a regent of one of the quarters of the world, (the country that lies) between the (rivers) Kâlindi and Narmadâ, (and) is enjoying in the world the glory of (being) a Mahârâja;—"

The above-mentioned inscription describes reign of Maharaja Surasmichandra, a feudatory of Budhagupta, as governing over the area between the rivers Kalindi and Narmada. This is one of the earliest inscriptional references to the river Narmada. It is mentioned as Narmados by Ptolemy. [13] No express reference to the Narmada can be traced in the Vedic literature. But the knowledge of the river is implied in the reference to a chief Revottaras mentioned in the Satapatha Brahmana. We find from the Amarakosa[14] that Reva is another name of the river Narmada. It is likely that the name of the chief was derived from his association with the river. The Raghuvamsa (VI. 43.) speaks of Mahishmati as the capital of Anupa on the bank of the Reva (i. e. Narmada). It has been mentioned several times in the Mahabharata and the Puranas. The Visnupurana says that by chanting a mantra addressed to the Narmada, one does not have any fear from serpents. [15] The river rises in the Amarakantaka mountain and falls into the Gulf of Cambay. The junction of the Narmada with the sea is a sacred place of pilgrimage. According to the Puranas it flows from a Rksvat (a part of the Vindhyan range) though some of them refer to it arising directly from the Vindhya itself. It is stated in the Kurma and Matsya Puranas that a man who commits suicide at any tirtha on the Narmada or on the Amarakantaka does not return to this world. Several rivers such as Kapila, Visalya, Erandi, Iksunadi and Kaveri are mentioned as falling into the Narmada. [16]


The source of the Narmada is a small bowl, known as the Narmada Kund, located at Amarkantak on the Amarkantak hill in the Anuppur District zone of the Shahdol of eastern Madhya Pradesh. The river descends from Sonmud, then falls over a cliff as Kapildhara waterfall and meanders in the hills.


After flowing through a tortuous course crossing the rocks and islands forming the border of Anuppur and Dindori it enters Dindori district. It passes through towns DindoriSarasdoli (Mandla) → Singarpur (Mandla) → ruined palace of Ramnagar (Mandla). Between Ramnagar and Mandla (25 km), further southeast, the course is comparatively straight with deep water devoid of rocky obstacles. The Banjar River joins from the left near (Mandla).

The river then runs north–west in a narrow loop to Salha (Mandla), then forms border of Mandla and Seoni districts and flows towards Bheraghat near Jabalpur. Close to this city, after a fall of some (9 m), called the Dhuandhara, the fall of mist, it flows for (3 km), in a deep narrow channel through the magnesium limestone and basalt rocks called the Marble Rocks; from a width of about 90 m, above, it is compressed in this channel of (18 m), only. Beyond this point up to its meeting the Arabian Sea, the Narmada enters three narrow valleys between the Vindhya scarps in the north and the Satpura range in the South. The southern extension of the valley is wider at most places. These three valley sections are separated by the closely approaching line of the scarps and the Satpura hills.

Emerging from the Marble Rocks the river enters its first fertile basin, forming border of Jabalpur and Narsinghpur districts after town called Jhikampur (Jabalpur). In Narsinghpur Heran tributary meets from right. Crossing Ghat Pipariya, Rampur towns of Narsinghpur and moving in west meets the border of Narsinghpur and Raisen districts. Then it forms border of Raisen and Hoshangabad districts, further it forms border of Hoshangabad and Sehore districts. The plain extends about 320 km, with an average width of 35 km, in the south. In the north, the valley is limited to the Barna–Bareli plain terminating at Barkhara Hills opposite Hoshangabad. Hoshangabad city lies on the left bank.

Joga Fort Gate, Image by Anil Gulati

Further down it forms border of Harda and Dewas districts. However, the hills again recede in the Kannod plains. The banks are about (12 m) high. Nemawar (Dewas) lies on the right bank. A few kms down stream from Nemawar in the middle of the river Narmada is situated an ancient old strong rock fort called Joga Fort. It was built by Jats and is situated on the border of Dewas and Harda districts of Kannod Tahsil in district Dewas, Madhya Pradesh. Fort was built by Joga Singh Rao, contemporary of Alha and Udal warriors in the Army of Chandel rulers.

It is in the first valley of the Narmada that many of its important tributaries from the south join it and bring the waters of the northern slopes of the Satpura Hills. Among them are: the Sher River, the Shakkar River, the Dudhi River, the Tawa River (biggest tributary) and the Ganjal River. The Hiran River, the Barna River, the Choral River, the Karam River and the Lohar River are the important tributaries joining from the north.

Below Handia and Nemawar to Hiran River fall (the deer's leap), the river is approached by hills from both sides. In this stretch the character of the river is varied. The Omkareshwar island, sacred to the Lord Shiva, is the most important river island in Madhya Pradesh. At first, the descent is rapid and the stream, quickening in pace, rushes over a barrier of rocks. The Sikta River and the Kaveri River join it below the Khandwa plain. At two points, at Mandhar, about 40 km, below Nemawar, and Dadrai, 40 km, further down near Punasa, the river falls over a height of about 12 m.

In West Nimar we come across two religious places Mandleshwar and Maheshwar. A few kms further down near Bareli and the crossing ghat of the Agra to Mumbai road, National Highway 3, the Narmada enters the Mandleshwar plain, the second basin about 180 km long and 65 km wide in the south. The northern strip of the basin is only 25 km. The second valley section is broken only by Saheshwar Dhara fall. The early course of about 125 km up to Markari falls is met with a succession of cataracts and rapids from the elevated table land of Malwa to the low level of Gujarat plain. Towards the west of this basin, the hills draw very close but soon dwindle down.

Below Makrai, the river flows between Vadodara district and Narmada district and then meanders through the rich plain of Bharuch district of Gujarat state. The width of the river spans from about 1.5 km at Makrai to 3 km near Bharuch and to an estuary of 21 km at the Gulf of Cambay. An old channel of the river, 1 km to 2 km south from the present one, is very clear below Bharuch. The Karanjan River and the Orsing River are the most important tributaries in the original course. The former joins at Rundh and the latter at Vyas in Vadodara district of Gujarat, opposite each other and form a Triveni (confluence of three rivers) on the Narmada. The Amaravati River and the Bhukhi River are other tributaries of significance. Opposite the mouth of the Bhukhi River is a large drift called Alia Bet or Kadaria Bet.

Narmada basin

Narmada River originates from Amarkantak and flows from east to west and joins Arabian Sea. Total drainage area of the river is 98796 km², out of which 85149 km² lies in Madhya Pradesh after formation of Chhattisgarh, which has 710 km². Total length or river is 1312 km and in Madhya Pradesh the river flows for a length of 1077 km.

The basin covers large areas in the states of Madhya Pradesh (81%), Gujarat (12%) and a comparatively smaller area (4%) in Maharashtra, (2%) in Chhattisgarh and (1%) in Andhra Pradesh.

The basin has five well defined physiographic regions. They are:

(1) The upper hilly areas covering the districts of Shahdol, Mandla, Durg, Balaghat and Seoni,
(2) The upper plains covering the districts of Jabalpur, Narsinghpur, Sagar, Damoh, Chhindwara, Hosangabad, Betul, Raisen and Sehore,
(3) The middle plains covering the districts of Khandwa, part of Khargone, Dewas, Indore and Dhar,
(4) The lower hilly areas covering part of the west Nimar, Jhabua, Dhulia, Narmada and parts of Vadodara, and
(5) the lower plains covering mainly the districts of Narmada, Bharuch, and parts of Vadodara.


There are 41 tributaries, out of which 22 are from the Satpuda range and the rest on the right bank are from the Vindhya range. Major tributaries of the river Narmada are: Amaravati River (Gujarat), Banjar River, Barna River, Beda River, Bhukhi River (Gujarat), Choral River, Dudhi River, Ganjal River, Goi River, Heran River, Jobat River Karam River, Karanjan River (Vadodara:Gujarat), Kaveri River (Khandwa) Kolar River, Lohar River, Mān River, Orsing River (Vadodara:Gujarat), Punasa River, Shakkar River, Sher River, Sikta River (Khandwa) Sukta River, Tawa River, Tendoni River,

Mention of Narmada River in Epics

In Ramayana

Ramayana in Kishkindha Kanda Sarga 41 mentions that Sugreeva sends Vanaras to southward which troop includes Hanuman, Jambavanta, Nila and others and Angada is its leader. Sugreeva gives a vivid picture of the southern side of Jambudvipa up to the south-most part of passable regions...

"Search the thousand crested Vindhya mountains abounding with numerous tress and climbers, then the delightful Narmada River coursing a little southerly to that range, which is adored by great snakes,..."
सहस्र शिरसम् विंध्यम् नाना द्रुम लता आयुतम् ।
नर्मदाम् च नदीम् रम्याम् महोरग निषेविताम् ॥४-४१-८॥

Yuddha Kanda/Yuddha Kanda Sarga 27: Sarana continues to describe the individual strengths of the various commanders in the army of monkeys, mentioning their names one by one, in detail.

8, 9. “O, king! He who is standing in the middle, with terrific eyes and of fearful appearance, encircled by all like Parjanya (the rain-god) being encircled by clouds; is the army-chief called Dhumra, the Lord of all bears, who drinks the waters of River Narmada and resides on an excellent mountain named Rikshavanta.”

एषाम् मध्ये स्थितो राजन् भीम अक्षो भीम दर्शनः । पर्जन्य इव जीमूतैः समन्तात् परिवारितः ॥६-२७-८॥
ऋक्षवन्तम् गिरि श्रेष्ठम् अध्यास्ते नर्मदाम् पिबन् । सर्व ऋक्षाणाम् अधिपतिर् धूम्रो नाम एष यूथपः ॥६-२७-९॥

In Mahabharata

We find mention of River Narmada in Mahabharata (II.9.18), (II.9), (II.28.9), (III.80.71), (III.83.9), (III.87.2), (VI.10.13),

Sabha Parva, Mahabharata/Book II Chapter 9 mentions rivers in verses:18-20

There are also the four oceans, the river Bhagirathi, the Kalindi, the Vidisa, the Venwa, the Narmada of rapid current; the Vipasa, the Satadru, the Chandrabhaga, the Saraswati; the Iravati, the Vitasta, the Sindhu, the Devanadi; the Godavari, the Krishnavenwa and that queen of rivers the Kaveri;

तदा समुथ्राश चत्वारॊ नथी भागीरथी च या
कालिन्दी विदिशा वेण्णा नर्मदा :वेगवाहिनी Mahabharata (II.9.18)
विपाशाशतद्रुशचन्थ्र भागा सरस्वती
इरावती वितस्तासिन्धुर थेव नथस तदा Mahabharata (II.9.19)
गॊदावरी कृष्ण वेण्णा कावेरी च सरिथ वरा
एताश चान्याश च सरितस तीर्दानि च सरांसि च Mahabharata (II.9.20)

Sabha Parva, Mahabharata/Book II Chapter 28 mentions Sahadeva's march towards south: kings and tribes defeated.

Allying himself with the vanquished tribes the prince then marched towards the countries that lay on the banks of the Narmada. And defeating there in battle the two heroic kings of Avanti, called Vinda and Anuvinda, supported by a mighty host, the mighty son of the twin gods exacted much wealth from them.
करांस तेभ्य उपाथाय रत्नानि विविधानि च
ततस तैर एव सहितॊ नर्मदाम अभितॊ ययौ (II.28.9)
विन्दानुविन्दाव आवन्त्यौ सैन्येन महता वृतौ
जिगाय समरे वीराव आश्विनेयः परतापवान (II.28.10)

Vana Parva, Mahabharata/Book III Chapter 80 mentions Merit attached to tirthas. Narmada (नर्मदा) (III.80.71), that river celebrated over the three worlds, and given oblations of water to the Pitris and the gods, one acquireth the fruit of the horse-sacrifice. He that goeth into the Southern ocean, practising the Brahmacharya mode of life, and with senses subdued, acquireth the fruit of the Agnishtoma sacrifice and ascendeth to heaven.

नर्मदाम अथ चासाद्य नदीं तरैलॊक्यविश्रुताम
तर्पयित्वा पितॄन देवान अग्निष्टॊम फलं लभेत Mahabharata (III.80.71)
दक्षिणं सिन्धुम आसाद्य बरह्म चारी जितेन्द्रियः
अग्निष्टॊमम अवाप्नॊति विमानं चाधिरॊहति Mahabharata (III.80.72)

Vana Parva, Mahabharata/Book III Chapter 83 mentions bamboo clump where Narmada originates. Touching next the waters of the Vanshagulma (वंशगुल्म) (III.83.9) constituting the sources of both the Sona and the Narmada, one obtaineth the merit of the horse-sacrifice.

शॊणस्य नर्मदायाश च परभवे कुरुनन्दन
वंशगुल्म उपस्पृश्य वाजिमेधफलं लभेत Mahabharata (III.83.9)

Vana Parva, Mahabharata/Book III Chapter 87 mentions Sacred spots in the west. In the country of the Avanti (अवन्ति) (III.87.1), there, flows in a westward course the sacred river Narmada (नर्मदा) (III.87.2), graced by Priyangu and mango trees, and engarlanded with thickest of canes. All the tirthas and sacred spots, and rivers and woods and foremost of mountains that are in the three worlds, all the gods with the Grandsire, along with the Siddhas, the Rishis and the Charanas, O best of the Kurus, always come, O Bharata, to bathe in the sacred waters of the Narmada. And it hath been heard by us that the sacred asylum of the Muni Visravas (विश्रवस) (III.87.3), had stood there, and that there was born the lord of treasures, Kuvera (कुबेर) (III.87.3), having men for his vehicles. There also is that foremost of hills, the sacred and auspicious Vaidurya (वैडूर्य) (III.87.4) peak abounding with trees that are green and which are always graced with fruit and flowers. O lord of the earth, on the top of that mountain is a sacred tank decked with full-blown lotus and resorted to by the gods and the Gandharvas. Many are the wonders, O mighty monarch, that may be seen on that sacred mountain which is like unto heaven itself and which is visited by celestial Rishis.

अवन्तिषु परतीच्यां वै कीर्तयिष्यामि ते दिशि
यानि तत्र पवित्राणि पुण्यान्य आयतनानि च Mahabharata (III.87.1)
परियङ्ग्वाम्रवनॊपेता वानीर वनमालिनी
परत्यक्स्रॊता नदी पुण्या नर्मदा तत्र भारत Mahabharata (III.87.2)
निकेतः खयायते पुण्यॊ यत्र विश्रवसॊ मुनेः
जज्ञे धनपतिर यत्र कुबेरॊ नरवाहनः Mahabharata (III.87.3)
वैडूर्य शिखरॊ नाम पुण्यॊ गिरिवरः शुभः
दिव्यपुष्पफलास तत्र पादपा हरितछदाः Mahabharata (III.87.4)
तस्य शैलस्य शिखरे सरस तत्र च धीमतः
परफुल्लनलिनं राजन देवगन्धर्वसेवितम Mahabharata (III.87.5)
बह्वाश्चर्यं महाराज दृश्यते तत्र पर्वते
पुण्ये सवर्गॊपमे दिव्ये नित्यं देवर्षिसेविते Mahabharata (III.87.6)

In Skanda Purana

The Descent Of Narmada: Explaining the reason why Narmada had to descend down to earth, Sutji narrated a tale to the assembled sages-' Once, sage Markandeya was taking rest at the bank of river Narmada where Yudhisthira accompanied by Draupadi arrived there. Yudhishthira curiously asked Markandeya about the reason he had chosen the bank of Narmada as his resting place when there were so many other holy places of greater significance. Sage Markandeya recounted a tale, which said how some sages had requested king Pururva to bring down river Narmada to the earth so that the whole world becomes liberated from its sins. Describing the holiness of Narmada, sages had told Pururava- ' The holy Narmada is capable of liberating the whole world from its sin. So, you should find means so that Narmada descends down to earth.'

Later on, Pururva did an austere penance to please Shiva. When Lord Shiva appeared before him, Pururva expressed his wish. Shiva instructed Narmada to descend down to earth but she told him that she needed a base for that to happen. Lord Shiva then instructed Paryank- the son of Vindhyachal mountain to hold Narmada while she descended down to earth. Prayank agreed to do that and this was how Narmada came down on earth. Initially, the whole world was flooded with the waters of Narmada but at the request of the deities she minimized her size. Narmada blessed Pururva and instructed him to perform the rituals of tarpan in the name of his ancestors so that they became liberated from their sins. Pururva complied and thus by performing tarpan liberated all his ancestors.'

Having finished his tale, Markandeya told Yudhishthira that one who takes a holy dip in Narmada attains virtues similar to that of performing Ashwamedh yagya.

Religious importance

To Hindus the Narmada is one of the seven holy rivers of India; the other six being Ganges, Yamuna, Godavari, Saraswathi, Sindhu, and Kaveri. It is believed that a dip in any of these seven rivers washes one's sins away. According to a legend, the river Ganges, polluted by millions of people bathing in it, assumes the form of a black cow and comes to the Narmada to bathe and cleanse itself in its holy waters. Legends also claim that the Narmada River is older than the river Ganges.

People and places of historical importance

Notable persons


  1. "Narmada Valley Development Authority,NVDA,Government of Madhya Pradesh, Narmada Basin,Narmada Water Dispute"
  2. "Narmada Control Authority"
  3. [ The Periplus of the Erythraean Sea: Travel and Trade in the Indian Ocean by a Merchant of the First Century Schoff , W.H. (tr. & ed.), 1912]
  4. 11th edition of Encyclopaedia Britannica.
  5. "Monier Williams Sanskrit-English Dictionary".
  6. Personal and geographical names in the Gupta inscriptions/Place-Names and their Suffixes,p.265
  7. राजशेखर काव्यमीमांस अध्यय १७ प.२३५:पूर्वापरयो: समुद्रयोर्हिमवद्विन्ध्ययोश्चान्तरमार्याकर्त्त: ।
  8. Balaramayana, Act 6, V.S. Apte's Rajasekhara, his life and writings, p. 21.
  9. "Narmada river".
  10. Ptolemy Geographia, Book Seven, Chapter
  11. Rivers in Ramayana:Kishkindha Kanda Sarga 40
  12. Personal and geographical names in the Gupta inscriptions/Names of the Rivers and the Mountains,pp. 295-296
  13. History of Dharmasastra by P. V. Kane, Vol. IV, p. 705
  14. अमरकोष: १/१०/३२ रेवा तु नर्मदा सोमोद्भवा मेकलकन्यका
  15. IV. 3. 12-13 : नर्मदायै नम: प्रातर्नर्मदायै नमो निशि । नमोस्तु नर्मदे तुभ्यं त्राहि मां विषसर्पत: ।। "Salutation to Narmada in the morning : salutation to Narmada at night : Narmada ? salutation to you, save me from poisonous serpents.
  16. Tej Ram Sharma: Personal and geographical names in the Gupta inscriptions/Names of the Rivers and the Mountains,pp. 295-296
  17. Jat Samaj, March 2009, p.30

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