Ganges, the great river of northern India, rises in Garhwal in 30° 56' 4" N. lat. and 79° 6' 40" E. long., issuing, under the name of the Bhagir-athi, from an ice-cave 8 miles above Gangotri and 13,800 feet above sea-level. A few miles below Gangotri it receives the Jahnavi, and 133 miles from its source the Alaknanda, from which point the united stream is known as the Ganges. From Sukhi, where it bursts through the Himalayas, it flows south-west to Hardwar, and thence winds south-east to Allahabad, where it is joined by the Jumna. Hence the great river rolls on, past the holy city of Benares, and across the plains of Behar, fed by the Son, the Gandak, and the Kusi. It then turns sharply to the southward, and begins to throw out the branches which enclose the level delta, at a point 220 miles from the Bay of Bengal. The main channel, called the Padma or Padda, runs southeast to Goalanda, where it is met by the main stream of the Brahmaputra, and the vast confluence of waters flows in a broad estuary, the Meghna, into the Bay of Bengal near Noakhali. Between this most easterly mouth, and the Hugli or Hooghly (q.v.), the most westerly and the great channel of navigation, lies the delta, with a multitude of mouths and channels. The delta in its upper angle is very fertile, but in the south, towards the sea, the country is a desolate waste of swamps (see Sundarbans), intersected by a network of canals. The Ganges has a total length of 1557 (by the Hugli mouth, 1509) miles; its drainage basin embraces over 390,000 sq. m. In spite of the shoals and rapids that lie above Allahabad, it is in some sense navigable from the point where it enters the lowlands, near Hardwar ; and its stream, which never fails in the hottest summer, distributes fertility throughout its course, and even its inundations spread over the fields a rich top-dressing of alluvial silt. The ruined or decayed cities near its banks, however, bear mute witness to the loss inflicted by the constant changes which take place in the river-bed. The Ganges excels all the great rivers of India in sanctity; from the source down to the sea every foot of 'Mother Ganga's' course is holy ground, to bathe in her waters will wash away sin, to die and be buried on her banks secures free entry to eternal bliss.
The Ganges Canal, opened in 1854, is an important irrigation work and navigable channel, extending, on the right of the Ganges, from Hardwar to Cawnpore, with a long branch to Hamirpur on the Jumna. The main canal is 445 miles in length. The Lower Ganges Canal, planned in 1866, and begun in 1873, is a southward extension of the main line to Allahabad.