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Yamuna (Jamuna)
Taj Mahal in Agra on the banks of Yamuna
Country India
States Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Haryana
 - left Chambal, Betwa, Ken, Sindh
 - right Tons, Hindon, Sarda, Kunta, Giri, Rishiganga, Hanuman Ganga, Kunta
Cities Delhi, Mathura, Agra, Etawah, Kalpi
Source Yamunotri Glacier
 - location Banderpooch peaks,Uttarkashi district, Uttarakhand, India
 - elevation 6,387 m (20,955 ft)
 - coordinates 38°59′N 78°27′E / 38.983°N 78.45°E / 38.983; 78.45
Mouth Triveni Sangam
 - location Allahabad, India
 - elevation m (0 ft)
 - coordinates 25°30′N 81°53′E / 25.5°N 81.883°E / 25.5; 81.883
Length 1,376 km (855 mi)
Basin 366,223 km2 (141,399 sq mi)
Yamuna at its source Yamunotri in Uttarakhand

The Yamuna (Sanskrit: यमुना, sometimes called Jamuna or Jumna) is the largest tributary river of the Ganges (Ganga) in northern India. Originating from the Yamunotri Glacier at a height 6,387 mtrs., on the south western slopes of Banderpooch peaks, in the Lower Himalayas, it travels a total length of 1,376 kilometers (855 mi) and has a drainage system of 366,223 km2, 40.2% of the entire Ganga Basin, before merging with the Ganges at Triveni Sangam, Allahabad, the site for the Kumbha Mela every twelve years.

It crosses several states, Uttarakhand, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh, passing by Himachal Pradesh and later Delhi, and meets several of its tributaries on the way, including Tons, its largest and longest tributary, Chambal, which has its own large basin, followed by Sindh, the Betwa, and Ken. Most importantly it creates the highly fertile alluvial, 'Yamuna-Ganga Doab' region between itself and the Ganges in the Indo-Gangetic plain. Nearly 57 million people depend on the Yamuna waters. With an annual flow of about 10,000 cubic metres (cum) and usage of 4,400 cum (of which irrigation constitutes 96 per cent), the river accounts for more than 70 per cent of Delhi’s water supplies. Just like the Ganges, the Yamuna too is highly venerated in Hinduism and worshipped as goddess Yamuna, throughout its course. In Hindu mythology, she is the daughter of Sun God, Surya, and sister of Yama, the God of Death, hence also known as Yami and according to popular legends, bathing in its sacred waters frees one from the torments of death [1][2].

The water of Yamuna is of "reasonably good quality" through its length from Yamunotri in the Himalayas to Wazirabad in Delhi, about 375 km, where the discharge of waste water through 15 drains between Wazirabad barrage and Okhla barrage renders the river severely polluted after Wazirabad in Delhi. One official describes the river as a "sewage drain" with biochemical oxygen demand (BOD) values ranging from 14 to 28 mg/l and high coliform content [3]. There are three main sources of pollution in the river, namely households and municipal disposal sites, soil erosion resulting from deforestation occurring to make way for agriculture along with resulting chemical wash-off from fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides and run-off from commercial activity and industrial sites.


Course and catchment

Banderpoonch peak, the source of Yamuna, as seen from Mussoorie
The Yamunotri temple on the river, dedicated to Goddess Yamuna.
The Doab, United Provinces, 1908 map

The source of Yamuna lies in the Yamunotri Glacier at a height 6,387 mtrs., on the south western slopes of Banderpooch peaks, which lie in the Mussoorie range of Lower Himalayas, in the Uttarkashi district, Uttarakhand, north of Haridwar [1]. Yamunotri temple, a shrine dedicated to the goddess, Yamuna is one of the holiest shrines in Hinduism, and part of the Chota Char Dham Yatra circuit. Also standing close to the temple, on its 13 km trek route, that follows the right bank of the river, lies the Markendeya Tirtha, where the sage Markandeya wrote the Markandeya Purana [4][5].

From here it flows southwards, for about 200 km through the Lower Himalayas and the Shivalik Hills Range and morainic deposited are found in its steep Upper Yamuna valley, highlighted with geomorphic features such as interlocking spurs, steep rock benches, and stream terraces. Large terraces formed over a long period of time can be seen in the lower course of the river, like ones near Naugoan. An important part of its early catchment area totalling 2,320 km² lies in Himachal Pradesh, and an important tributary draining the Upper Catchment Area is the Tons, Yamuna's largest and longest tributary, which rises from the Hari-ki-dun valley and holds water more than the main stream, which it merges after Kalsi near Dehradun. The entire drainage system of the river stretches all the way between Giri-Sutlej catchment in Himachal and Yamuna-Bhilangna catchment in Garhwal, indeed the southern ridge of Shimla is also drained into this system.

Other tributaries in the region are the Giri, Rishi Ganga, Kunta, Hanuman Ganga and Bata tributaries, which drain the Upper Catchment Area of the vast Yamuna basin [6]. Thereafter the river descends on to the plains of Doon Valley, at Dak Pathar near Dehradun. Here through a weir dam, the water is diverted into a canal for power generation, little further down where Yamuna is met by the Assan River, lies the Assan barrage, which hosts a Bird Sanctuary as well. After passing the Sikh pilgrimage town of Paonta Sahib, it reaches Tajewala in Yamuna Nagar district, of Haryana, where a dam built in 1873, is the originating place of two important canals, the Western Yamuna Canal and Eastern Yamuna Canal, which irrigate the states of Haryana and Uttar Pradesh. The Western Yamuna Canal (WYC) crosses Yamuna Nagar, Karnal and Panipat before reaching the Haiderpur treatment plant, which supplies part of municipal water supply to Delhi, further it also receives waste water from Yamuna Nagar and Panipat cities. Yamuna is replenished again after this by seasonal streams and groundwater accrual, in fact during the dry season, it remains dry in many stretches from Tajewala till Delhi, where it enters near Palla village after traversing 224 km.

The Yamuna also creates natural state borders between the Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand states, and further down between the state of Haryana and Uttar Pradesh. Along with Ganga to which run almost parallel after it touches the Indo-Gangetic plain, the largest alluvial fertile plain in the world, it creates the Ganga-Yamuna Doab region spread across 69,000 km2, one-third of the entire plain, and today known for its agricultural outputs, prominent among them is the cultivation of Basmati Rice. The plain itself supports one-third of India's population through its farming [7].

Course of Yamuna, in the Indo-Gangetic Plain
State Catchment area (km2)  % of catchment area
Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand 74,208 21.5 %
Himachal Pradesh 5,799 1.6
Haryana 21,265 6.5
Rajasthan 102,883 29.8
Madhya Pradesh 14,023 40.6
Delhi 1,485 0.4

Subsequently, it flows through the states of Delhi, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh, before merging with the Ganges at a sacred spot known as Triveni Sangam in Allahabad after traversing a distance of 1,376 kilometers (855 mi). Here pilgrims travel by boats to platforms erected mid stream to offer prayers. During the Kumbh Mela, held every 12 years, the ghats around the Sangam are venue of large congregation of people, who take dip in the sacred waters of the confluence [8]. The cities of Baghpat, Delhi, Noida, Mathura, Agra, Firozabad, Etawah, Kalpi, Hamirpur, Allahabad lie on its banks. At Etawah, it meets it another important tributary, Chambal, followed by a host of tributaries further down, including, Sindh, the Betwa, and Ken [2][9].

Ancient literature and history

Vasudev carrying baby Lord Krishna across the Yamuna, an important legend of Bhagavata Purana
An 8th-century sculpture depicting Yamuna personified as a goddess

Literally meaning "twins" in Sanskrit, as it runs parallel to the Ganges, its name is mentioned at many places in the Rig Veda, written during the Vedic period ca between 1700–1100 BC, and also in the later Atharvaveda, and the Brahmanas including Aitareya Brahmana and Shatapatha Brahmana [10]. In Rig Veda, the story of the Yamuna describes her "excessive love" for her twin, Yama, who in turn asks her to find a suitable match for herself, which she does in Krishna. The tale is further detailed in the 16th century Sanskrit hymn, Yamunashtakam, an ode by philosopher Vallabhacharya. Here the story of descent to meet her beloved Krishna and to purify the world has been put in verse. The hymn also he praises her for being the source of all spiritual abilities, while Ganga is considered an epitome of asceticism and higher knowledge and can grant us Moksha or liberation, it is Yamuna, who being a holder of infinite love and compassion, can grant us freedom from even death, the realm of her elder brother. She rushes down the Kalinda Mountain, and verily describes her as the daughter of Kalinda, giving her another name, Kalindi, the backdrop of Krishna Leela. The text also talk about her water being of the colour of Lord Krishna, which is dark (Shyam) [11][12].

It is mention as Iomanes (Ioames) in the surveys of Seleucus I Nicator, an officer of Alexander the Great and one of the Diadochi, who visited India in 305 BC, later Megasthenes, a Greek traveller and geographer, visited India, sometimes before 288 BC, the date of Chandragupta's death, also mention the river in his text Indica, where he described the region around it as the land of Surasena [13]. In Mahabharata, Indraprastha, the capital of Pandavas was also situated on the banks of Yamuna, it is considered to the modern day city of Delhi.

There is evidence indicating Yamuna was a tributary of the Ghaggar river, also known as the Vedic Sarasvati River in the ancient past and the rivers were collectively known as Sapta Sindhu or seven streams. It changed its course to east following a tectonic event in north India and became a tributary of the Ganges instead. As the it is believed that the Sarasvati river dried and it also meant the end of many Indus Valley civilization settlements, and creation of the Thar desert, the Ghaggar-Hakra river now flows only during the monsoon season [14][15][16]. The importance of the Ganga-Yamuna river basin, and the Doab region as traditional the seat of power, can be derived from the fact, in much of early history of India, most of great empires, which ruled over majority of India, until the Chalukyas King, Vinayaditya, were based in the highly fertile Ganga-Yamuna basin, including the Magadha (ca 600 BC), Maurya Empire (321-185 BC), Sunga Empire (185-73 BCE), Kushan Empire (1st–3rd centuries CE), Gupta Empire (280–550 CE), and many had their capitals here, in cities like Pataliputra or Mathura. These rivers were revered throughout these kingdoms that flourished on their banks, in fact ever since the period of Chandragupta II (r. 375-415 CE), statues both Ganga and Yamuna became common throughout the Gupta Empire. Further to the South, images of Ganga and Yamuna are found amidst shrines of the Chalukyas, Rashtrakutas (753–982), as well as on their royal seals, and prior to them, the Chola Empire too added the river into their architectural motifs. The Three River Goddess shrine, next of famous Kailash rock-cut Temple at Ellora, built by Rashtrakuta King, Govinda III, shows Ganga flanked by the Yamuna and Saraswati [17].


The goddess of the river, also known as Yami, is the sister of Yama, god of death, and the daughter of Surya, the Sun god, and his wife Samjñā[18]. The river Yamuna is also connected to the religious beliefs surrounding Krishna, the Krishnaism, and various stories connected with Him are found in Hindu mythology, especially the Puranas, like that of Kaliya Daman, the subduing of Kaliya, a poisonous Nāga snake, which had inhabited the river and terrorized the people of Braja.[19][20].

Important tributaries


Agra Canal headworks at Okhla barrage, Delhi. 1871.

The importance of Yamuna in the Indo-Gangetic Plains is enhanced by its many canals, some dating back to as early as 14th century CE byTughlaq dynasty, which built the Nahr-i-Bahisht (Paradise), parallel to the river, it was later restored and extended by the Mughals in the first half of seventeenth century, by engineer Ali Mardan Khan, starting from Benawas where the river enters the plains and terminating near the Mughal capital, Shahjahanabad, the present city of Delhi [21]. As the Yamuna enters the Northern plains near Dak Pathar at a height of 790 meters, two canals namely, the Eastern and Western Yamuna Canals commence from the Assan barrage about 11 kilometers from Dak Pathar in Doon Valley, the canals irrigate vast tracts of lands in the region, then once its passes Delhi, it feeds the Agra Canal built in in 1874, which starts from Okhla barrage beyond the Nizamuddin bridge, and the high land between the Khari-Nadi and the Yamuna and before joining the Banganga river about 20 miles below Agra. Thus during the summer season, the stretch above Agra resembles a minor stream [2].

A heavy freight canal, known as the Sutlej-Yamuna Link (SYL), is being built westwards from near its headwaters through the Punjab region near an ancient caravan route and highlands pass to the navigable parts of the Sutlej-Indus watershed. This will connect the entire Ganges, which flows to the east coast of the subcontinent, with points west (via Pakistan). When completed, the SYL will allow shipping from India's east coast to the west coast and the Arabian sea, drastically shortening shipping distances and creating important commercial links for north-central India's large population. The canal starts near Palla village near Delhi, and was to transfer Haryana's share of 3.5 MAF from Indus Basin, though state of Haryana has completed its portion, Punjab is against its construction, and the state legislature passed the "Punjab Termination of Agreement Act 2004", which declared earlier agreements null and void [1].


The stretch of the river form its origin to Okhla in Delhi is called “Upper Yamuna”. A Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was signed amongst the five basin states, namely Himachal Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarankhand, Haryana, Rajasthan and Delhi, on 12 May, 1994 for sharing of the water of Upper Yamuna. This led to the formation of Upper Yamuna River Board under Ministry of Water Resources, whose primary functions are regulation of the allocation of available flows amongst the beneficiary states and also for monitoring the return flows; monitoring conserving and upgrading the quality of surface and ground water; maintaining hydro-meteorological data for the basin; over viewing plans for watershed management; monitoring and reviewing the progress of all projects up to and including Okhla barrage.[22]

Flood forecasting systems are established at Poanta Sahib, where Tons, Pawar and Giri tributaries meet, followed by Tajewala, Kalanaur, Haryana and Mawai before Delhi, the river take 60 hours to travel from Tajewala to Delhi, thus allowing a two-day advance flood warning period.[1][23][24] The Central Water Commission started flood-forecasting services in 1958 with the setting up of its first forecasting station on Yamuna at Delhi Railway Bridge.[25]

Geography and Wildlife

The catchment area of the river, especially till its touches the plains, is replete with Alpine, semi alpine, temperate and sub-tropical vegetation, and vast areas are under forest over, and supports extensive animal life.

Yamuna is the frontier of the Asian Elephant. West of the Yamuna, there are no elephants to be found over 900 km of the western Himalayas and their foothills. The forests of the lower Yamuna offer ideal corridors for elephant movement. The principal forests to be found here are of sal , khair (acacia) , and sissoo (rosewood) trees, and the Chir Pine forests of the Shivalik Hills.


Yamuna river near the Himalayas, just as its hits the plains, beyond Dehradun

The Imperial Gazetteer of India, 1909 mentions, the waters of Yamuna distinguishable as "clear blue" as compared to silt-ridden yellow of the Ganges [26]. However, due to high density population growth, rapid industrialization, today Yamuna is one of the most polluted rivers in the world, especially around New Delhi, the capital of India, which dumps about 58% of its waste into the river. Though numerous attempts have been made to clean it, the efforts have proven to be futile. Although the government of India has spent nearly $500 million to clean up the river, the river continues to be polluted with garbage while most sewage treatment facilities are underfunded or malfunctioning. In addition, the water in this river remains stagnant for almost 9 months in a year aggravating the situation. Delhi alone contributes around 3,296 MLD (million litres per day) of sewage in the river. The government of India over the next five years has prepared plans to rebuild and repair the sewage system and the drains that empty into the river. To address river pollution, certain measures of cleaning river have been taken by the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) of the Government of India (GOI) in 12 towns of Haryana, 8 towns of Uttar Pradesh, and Delhi under an action plan (Yamuna Action Plan-YAP) which is being implemented since 1993 by the National River Conservation Directorate (NRCD) of the Ministry of Environment and Forests. The Japan Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC) is participating in the Yamuna Action Plan in 15 of the above 21 towns (excluding 6 towns of Haryana included later on the direction of Supreme Court of India) with soft loan assistance of 17.773 billion Japanese Yen (equivalent to about Rs. 700 crore INR) while GOI is providing the funds for the remaining 6 towns added later. The Indian government's plans to repair sewage lines is predicted to improve the water quality of the river 90% by the year 2010.[27][28][29].

However in 2009, the Union government admitted to the Lok Sabha (Indian Parliament), the failure of Ganga Action Plan (GAP) and Yamuna Action Plan (YAP), saying that "rivers Ganga and Yamuna are no cleaner now than two decades ago" despite spending over Rs 1,700 crore to control pollution. According to a CSE official these plans adopted the Thames model, which based on a centralized sewage treatment system, this meant that huge sum of money and a 24-hr power supply were needed to manage the treatment plants, while only 8-hr power supply was available, contributing to their failure[30].In August 2009, he Delhi Jal Board (DJB) initiated its plan for resuscitating the Yamuna’s 22-km stretch in Delhi by constructing interceptor sewers, at the cost of about Rs 1,800 crore [31].

In popular culture

In 2005, the award winning documentary Jijivisha was made on Yamuna.




  1. ^ a b c d Jain, Sharad K.; Pushpendra K. Agarwal, Vijay P. Singh (2007). Hydrology and water resources of India- Volume 57 of Water science and technology library. Springer. p. 344–354. ISBN 1402051794. 
  2. ^ a b c Hoiberg, Dale (2000). Students' Britannica India, Volumes 1-5. Popular Prakashan. p. 290–291. ISBN 0852297602. 
  3. ^ "'Ganga is the most polluted river'". The Hindu. Nov 23, 2003. 
  4. ^ Yamunotri Temple Uttarkashi district website.
  5. ^ Nand, Nitya; Kamlesh Kumar (1989). The holy Himalaya: a geographical interpretation of Garhwal - Yamuna Drainage System. Daya Books. p. 49. ISBN 8170350557. 
  6. ^ General outline of rivers in Himachal @ webindia123
  7. ^ Sharma, Deo Prakash (2006). Archaeology of Lower Ganga-Yamuna Doab (circa 1200 B.C. to 1200 A.D.). Bharatiya Kala Prakashan. p. 10, 214. ISBN 8180900339. ""Doab is a Persian word, from Do-Ab, literally meaning 'two rivers', or land between two rivers"." 
  8. ^ At the Three Rivers TIME, February 23, 1948.
  9. ^ State of River Yamuna
  10. ^ Macdonell, Arthur Anthony; Arthur Berriedale Keith (1995). Vedic Index of Names and Subjects (Volume 2). Motilal Banarsidass. p. 186. ISBN 8120813332. 
  11. ^ Shiva, Vandana (2006). Earth democracy: justice, sustainability and peace-G - Reference,Information and Interdisciplinary Subjects Series. Zed Books. p. 172–173. ISBN 1842777777. 
  12. ^ Chamberlain, Gary (2008). Troubled waters: religion, ethics, and the global water crisis. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 18. ISBN 0742552454. 
  13. ^ Dahlaquist, Allan (1996). Megasthenes and Indian Religion- Volume 11 of History and Culture Series. Motilal Banarsidass Publ.. p. 386. ISBN 8120813235. 
  14. ^ Ghosh, A. (1991). Encyclopedia of Indian Archaeology. BRILL. p. 214. ISBN 9004092641. 
  15. ^ Feuerstein, Georg; Subhash Kak, David Frawley (2001). In Search of the Cradle of Civilization. Quest Books. p. 89. ISBN 0835607410. 
  16. ^ Frawley, David (2000). Gods, Sages and Kings: Vedic Secrets of Ancient Civilization. Lotus Press. p. 95. ISBN 0910261377. 
  17. ^ Davis, Richard H. (1999). Lives of Indian images. Princeton University Press. p. 74–76. ISBN 0691005206. 
  18. ^ Bhagavata Purana 8.13.9
  19. ^ Dimmitt, Cornelia (1978). Classical Hindu mythology: a reader in the Sanskrit Purānas. Temple University Press. p. 329. ISBN 0877221227. 
  20. ^ Yamunashtakam Text and Translation
  21. ^ Woodward, David; John Brian Harley (1987). The History of cartography, Volume 2, Part 1. Oxford University Press US. p. 438. ISBN 0226316351. 
  22. ^ Upper Yamuna River Board Official website.
  23. ^ Rao, K.L. (1979). India's Water Wealth - Flood Forecasting system of Yamuna. Orient Blackswan. p. 163. ISBN 8125007040. .
  24. ^ Negi, Sharad Singh (1991). Himalayan rivers, lakes, and glaciers. Indus Publishing. p. 141–142. ISBN 8185182612. 
  25. ^ Flood Forecasting Network in India Ministry of Water Resources website.
  26. ^ The Ganges and the Jumna The Imperial Gazetteer of India, 1909 v. 1, p. 23.
  27. ^ Pepper, Daniel (2007-07-27). "India's "flush-and-forget" mind-set". (San Francisco Chronicle): pp. A17-A18. Retrieved 2007-07-27. 
  28. ^ "CAG castigates Delhi Govt over Yamuna river pollution". Indian Express. April 8, 2000. 
  29. ^ Daniel Pepper (June 4, 2007). "India's rivers are drowning in pollution". Fortune (magazine). 
  30. ^ "Failure of Ganga, Yamuna projects..". The Times of India. September 2009. 
  31. ^ "Inflow to Yamuna to be cleaned up at last". Indian Express. Aug 31, 2009. 

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