Myths centering the river

The Mahabharata and other ancient Indian scriptures refers river Brahmaputra as Lauhitya. The name Brahmaputra is found first time in the Kalika purana which was comprised in 10th century C.E which narrates the legend of how the watery form, the Brahmaputra was born from sage Shantanu wife Amogha’s nostrils after imbibing the brahmabeej of Lord Brahma. And that sage Shantanu then placed the watery form child amidst four mountains -- the Kailash, Gandhamardan, Sanvartak and Jarudhi in the north, south, east and west direction respectively. Gradually, the child expanded into a great lake–BrahmaKunda.

One day, Parasuram on the order of his father Jamdagni, came to Brahmakunda to wash away his sin of matricide. After taking dip in the holy Brahmakunda, the axe which was attached with his hand got released and the entire water of the BrahmaKunda became red due to blood stains of the axe. Being amazed with divine water of the Kunda he decided to bring it down to the plains for the benefit of the entire human race. Parasuram cut a channel and brought the waters of the Brahmakunda to the Lauhitya Lake in the Kailash Valley and then to the plains of the Kamrupa. Incidentally, Brahmaputra is the only male river in India.
Similar mythological stories on the Brahmaputra exists in Tibet and other tribes of the Himalayan ranges. Many erronomously believe that Brahmakunda and Parasuramkunda are the same. But the latter is located on the Lohit River about 25 km north of Tezu in Lohit District of Auranchal Pradesh and is known till date as a tirtha or pilgrimage and is visited by the devout in large numbers particularly on Makar Sankranti (14 January), in the belief that taking a bath in the ‘kunda’ on this auspicious day would wash away all their sins.

Origin of the Brahmaputra

The origin, and course of the Brahmaputra remained a mystery until the 19th Century. It was the European in the early 19th and 20th century who established through their various expeditions in the Himalayan ranges that the Yarlung Tsangpo and the Brahmaputra are one and the same river. The source of the Brahmaputra is found to be amidst the Kupi Glacier, Angsi Glacier and Chemayungdung Glacier.
The three glaciers believed to be the origin of the Yarlung Tsangpo-Brahmaputra. On account of water discharge (more than three times of Chemayungdung) Kubi is regarded as source of the Brahmaputra but in terms of length (about ten km longer than Kubi) Chemayungdung is considered origin of the river. Angshi Glacier is claimed to be origin in the basis of satellite imagery analysis

Course of the Mighty river

From its source, the Yarlung Tsangpo flows in an eastward direction for 1625 km between the Kailash Range in the north and the Greater Himalayas in the south till Lhatse Dzong, where the first major tributary, Raga Tsangpo, coming from the north merges with the river. From this point on for the next 600 kms the river is navigable. After this the river takes a sharp turn in the northeast direction and then moves in southwest direction around the Namcha Barwa to form the worlds deepest (6009m), longest (504.6km) and narrowest(35m) canyon ‘the Grand Canyon of the Tsangpo’. Thereafter, the Yarlung Tsangpo enters northern Arunachal Pradesh at Gelling, in Upper Siang District from where it is known as Siang or Dihang and flows further down for about 300 km to confluence with the Siang, the Dibang and the Lohit and create a ‘delta in reverse’ at Kobo, approximately 25 km from Sadiya, at the head of the Assam Valley. From here on the river is known as the Brahmaputra. Earlier it was believed that Lohit was the mainstream of the Brahmaputra and hence is also known as Luit, Borluit and Burhaluit in Assam. In the plains of Assam the Brahmaputra brings as many as 52 major and 121 minor tributaries into his voluminous folds. In Dibrugarh the river is divided into two channels: the which again joins about 100 km downward in Jorhat forming the 90 km long and 20 km wide Majuli island, one of the largest river islands in the world. Traversing through Tezpur, Kamrup and Goalpara the river flows southwards into Bangladesh from Dhubri where the Teesta River enters its fold. Further downstream, the river again divides into two streams – the Jamuna which merges with the Padma River at Goalundo and the second channel is the Brahmaputra which merges with the Meghna River near Dhaka from where on the river in its downward course is known as the Meghna. Both Padma and Meghna then merges again near Chandanpur and divides itself into multiple channels to form the world’s largest delta “the Sunderbans"


River Basin-varied climate and amazing flora and fauna

The Brahmaputra basin which drains out an area of 1.6 million sq km inhabited by 625 million people is the fourth largest in the world. It has the potential to meet 30 per cent of India’s water requirements and 41 per cent of its hydropower needs. As for Bangladesh, it fulfils 94 per cent of its total water requirements from the Brahmaputra river system. The Brahmaputra’s total basin area across China, India, Bhutan and Bangladesh is 1540 km long and 780 km wide. The drainage basin of the Brahmaputra is 580160 sq km out of which about 293000 sq km falls in China, 1994413 sq km in India, and about 45000 sq km in Bangladesh. The drainage area in India is about 6 per cent of the total geographical area of the country. While alluvial and loamy soils predominate, lateritic, sandy, and clayey soils are also found in the basin area. The Brahmaputra basin has varied climatic conditions, from snow covered peaks to the cold and dry Tibetan plateau; from the temperate and humid Assam to the floodplain deltas of Bangladesh it makes the Brahmaputra basin very susceptible to climatic change. It also hosts several bio diversity hotspots and National Parks like Kaziranga, Dibru Saikhowa, Orang, Manash etc apart from many reserved forests and wild life sanctuaries. Assam District Gazetteers VOL XI published in 1928 provides vivid description about Brahmaputra river system.”The main artery of the province – the Brahmaputra River-enters Assam in the Sadiya District. Rising near the Monasorowar lake, away north of Kashmir it flows eastward as the Tsangpo through Tibet, being crossed by the India-Lhassa road at Chaksam ferry, not far from Lhassa and then turns southward cutting the main Himalayan axis at a point of which the approximate latitude is 29.350 and longitude 95.200. In its bend it encircles some magnificient peaks dominated by Namcha Barua 924,445’), at the northern foot of which lies, west and east, the gorge in which were supposed to exist the falls which remained a geographical mystery until 1913, when the area was explored by Captains Bailey and Morshead. No falls were discovered but a series of rapids for thirty miles.The Tsangpo receives many tributaries in its course through the Abor Hills, the Ringong , Sirapateng (Sigong), Shimong, Siyom, Yamne and is known to the Abors as the Siang. It leaves the hills and enters the plains at Pasighat. A few miles below Pasighat it divides into two channels- the Dihong channel and the Lalli-the island between, known as the Lalli Chapri, being a game reserve.

Twenty miles south of Pasighat and wost of Sadiya it is joined by the Lohit-Brahmaputra. The Lohit rises in eastern Tibet where it is known as the Zayul and flows southward entering the district twenty-five miles south of Rima which is situated on the left bank. Thirty miles further south it turns due west at Minzang. In its course it receives many additions the Dou, Delei,Tiddind, Digaru,Dibong,Kamlung,Noa Dehing and many smaller rivers which carry off the drainage of the huge mountain systems on both sides of its bed. The Lohit-Brahmaputra is known to the Mishmi tribes as the Tellu and its journey through the hill section of the Frontier Tract flows through the Mishmi country and enters the plains at Parsuramkund, forty- six miles from Sadiya, a place of pilgrimage for IIindus. The Dibong which joins it a short distance below Sadiya drains the mountain masses north of Sadiya and is notable for the deep gorges and inhospitable country of its upper reaches. Feeder steamers can pass up the Brahmaputra at all seasons as far as Murkong Selek which lies 40 miles upstream from Dibrugarh, while from May to November they can penetrate a further fifty miles. As can be readily understood, the river is subject to big flood and at such times the junction between Sadiya and Kobo of the amin stream and its two chief confluents, the Lohit and the Dibong, is a sight of savage relentless strength and beauty. The actual bed of the river is wide and in the cold weather it winds among huge sand banks or ‘chapris’ (islands of pure sand formed by the river and covered by grass or small tree jungle). The river is continually changing its course within its bed, eroding both banks in turn, this erosion has already destroyed one Sadiya and is even now a source of imminent danger to the existing town. Communications in the plains are largely by river. All the important bazaars, Sadiya, Saikhoa, Kobo, Pasighat, Murkong Selek, are located on the Brahmaputra.” The author of the book “Sketch of Assam” published by The Elder Smith Co. in 1847 has narrated his journey from Calcutta to Saikhowa Tinsukia through the Brahmaputra.He writes- "In the rains, the Burrampooter river resembles a sea, extending for many miles over the country. In the dry season it will be found in many places more than a mile wide.The current in Upper Assam, above Dibroo Ghur, is much more rapid than the Ganges river, and far more dangerous; from the river being strewed with immense trees, which are whirled down the stream with awful impetuosity, threatening instant destruction to the boat so unfortunate as to come in contact with them.For this reason, the canoes of the country being more manageable , and even if filled with water, too buoyant to sink, much less risk is incurred by travelling in them than in the comfortable budgerow, or large native boat of Western India, roofed with straw.The canoe has also another advantage, in case of a storm, as it can in a few minutes be dragged on shore and remain in perfect safety till the toofan has passed over. The confinement, however, and constant reclining posture are almost unbearable in the hot weather;and there is a painful sense of insecurity from the streams and rivers in many parts of Assam swarming with crocodiles. Natives,when bathing,are not unfrequently seized by crodiles, and I have heard that one of these amphibious monsters has been known to seize a paddler unsuspiciously sleeping in the front part of the boat: which is not improbable, as the sides of a canoe are only six inches or a foot above the water. Such occurrences, however, are too rare to justify the fears that are entertained; but their rarity, considering the great numbers of crocodiles on the banks, is nevertheless a marvel. In the Chawlkhawa river, opposite Burpetah, I have seen basking in the sun on the sand banks, as many as ten crocodiles at a time; and upon one occasion, a heap of one hundred crocodile’s eggs, each about the size of a turkey’s eggs, were discovered on a sand bank, and brought to me; I found on blowing them, that they all combined a perfectly formed crocodile, about two inches, which would have crept forth after a few days’ farther exposure to the sun. Navigation in the Brahmaputra was very difficult river journey from Calcutta to Saikhowa Tinsukia." The following table showing is given in The book ‘Sketch of Assam’ the number of days required for a Budgerow to proceed from Calcutta to Suddeah, or Saikwah in Upper Assam, from

October till 1st June:-
No. of days.

1 From Calcutta to Dacca 
2 Dacca to Goalpara
3 Goalparah to Gowahatty
4 Gowahatty to Tezpore
5 Tezpore to Bisnath
6 Bisnath to the mouth of the Dikho river,12 miles
7 Distant from Seebsagur
8 Dikhoo Mookh river to Dibrolghur
9 Dibroolghur to Suddeah or Saikwah
  Total Days

He further explained how ardous journey used to be- “Expecting with a westerly wind during the rains, the navigation of the Burrampooter river is tedious, uncertain, and dangerous, from falling banks, floating trees, a rapid current, and no tracking ground: the jungle extending to the edge of the river. In Assam a canoe is the safest and most speedy mode of travelling.” Elder Smith has also given the detail account of wild life and their conflict with human beings in Brahmaputra valley. He writes – “In perambulating the district, I was particularly struck with immense extent of high grass jungle between the Burrampooter river and the foot of the Bootan mountains. I frequently traversed a distance of eight and ten miles through a dense grass jungle twenty feet high, without meeting with a solitary hut or any cultivation; but suddenly , a village and an open cultivated space of a few hundred acre would burst upon the view and vary the monotony of the scene. This would be followed by a dreary waste extending to the next village, often five or six miles distant; while a solitary foot-path, forming the only communication between the small communities thus isolated, clearly showed that for many months in the year little intercourse, except by water, is kept up between them. The country is infested with wild animals, and the footpaths are dangerous at all times. Some slight idea may be formed of the danger to human life from the denizens of the jungle, when I state that in the western quarter of the district of Kamroop alone, in the short period of six months, the police reports included twenty men killed by wild elephants and buffaloes.

The damage done to the rice crops yearly by the wild elephants and buffaloes is very considerable; and although Government bestows reward of two rupees eight annas , or five shilling for every buffalo destroyed, and five rupees or ten shillings for every tiger’s head, such is the apathy and indifference of the natives to their own interest and preservation, that they seldom exert themselves to earn the gratuity, until repeated aggressions become unbearable. When wild elephants pull down their huts, or a tiger from previous success, becomes emboldened to enter their little dwellings and carry off their cattle, then the village community will turn out in a body; surrounding with nets the tiger’s lair,- a small patch of jungle in the vicinity of the village,-and shouting and yelling, they drive the intruder into the nets, where he falls an easy victim to the spears and bludgeons of the enraged and injured populace. In January, February, March, and April, the whole country adjoining Burpetah presents a spectacle seldom seen elsewhere: the natives set fire to the jungle to clear the land for cultivation, and to open the thoroughfares between the different villages, and the awful roar and rapidity with which the flames spread cannot be conceived. A space of many miles of grass jungle, twenty feet high, is cleared in a few hours; and the black ashes scattered over the face of the earth after such recent verdure, form one of the most gloomy and desolate landscapes that can well be imaged. But so rapid is vegetation in Assam that a few days suffice to alter the scaene; the jungle speedily shoots up with greater strength than ever, and at the approach of the heavy rains in June, it again attains a height of many feet. The enormous extent of forest, and high, dense grass jungle in Assam, exceeds perhaps that of any other country of the same area; and as, as a consequence,the herds of wild elephants, buffaloes,deer,rhinosceroses,and tigers,are innumerable. Almost every military officer in civil employ in Assam, having constantly to roam about the country, becomes, if not from choice, at least in self-defence, a keen and skilful sportsman.


Herds of one hundred buffaloes each are frequently met with; and though I have known twenty buffaloes shot in one days’s diversion, they are so prolific, and the seasons of four months for sports is so short, that no actual process appears to be made in the diminution of their numbers. On some occasions, when a buffalo is wounded and unable to escape into high jungle,he furiously charges the elephant on which the sportsman is mounted in a howdah, and often gores the elephant, or injures the feet or legs of the driver seated on the animal’s neck, before he can be stopped in his career; for it frequently takes ten or twelve balls to destroy a buffalo, unless an early trained, on being charged by a buffalo, merely blows of the infuriated monster: screaming out, however, in the utmost fright until the buffalo is shot or scared off by the firing; but a timid or badly trained elephant , on being charged instantly seeks safety in flight,to the imminent peril of the sportsman, should any trees happen to come in contact with the howdah. Buffaloes, however, that have been long undistrubed,generally stand still,and with fierce looks and raised horns receive the first few shots in utter astonishment, and then seek shelter in the high jungles with the utmost speed. Rhinosceroses are very numerous in many partsof Assam, and are to be found in very high grass jungle, near inaccessible miry swamps, which preclude pursuit, and having thick, they are not easily shot. Elephants dread the charge of a rhinoceros as much as the former animal not unfrequently scares even a well-trained elephant from the field. If the rhinoceros succeeds in overtaking the elephant, he bites large pieces of flesh from the elephant's sides or legs, and with the horn on the nose not unfrequently inflicts fearful wounds. Rhinoceroses are tamed in a few months, and may be seen at Gowahatty grazing on the plains as harmless as cows, attented by a single man. When tamed in Assam they may be bought of the natives for 100 or 150 rupees (10l. or 15l.) : many have been sent to Calcutta, and sold for 500 rupees, or 50l. ; but the expense of boat hire to the metropolis, provender, and servants' wages, with the risk attendant on the journey to so distant a market, renders the speculation anything but profitable. Deer shooting in a fine, healthy,exhilarating exercise for those who are not partial to the dangerous and exciting scenes common to tiger, rhinoceros, and buffalo shooting. It is a mistake, however, to suppose it tamt,easy sport. Deer shooting requires much practice: a steady foot and arm in a howdad, and quick sight are indispensable, if you would shoot either pigs or deer while bounding rapidly over the plain

. A most deadly poison is extracted from a kind of root denominated Mishmee Bih (or poison) brought from the Mishmee country , on the north-east quarter of Assam. With this the natives in Upper Assam generally cover the tips of their arrows, and destroys elephants for the sake of the tusks. So powerful, so deadly is the effect of the poison, that the slightest scratch or puncture of an arrow smeared with it proves fatal: if not instantaneously, at all events in a few hours after an elephant has been stricken. Deer and buffaloes are also killed in the same manner. Immediately the animal falls, the wounded part is cut out, and the flesh is then eaten by the natives, without apprehension of any ill effects arising from the inoculation of the body by the poison: at least I have never heard of a single instance of a person losing his life from having eaten of the flesh of animals killed by poisoned arrows, common as is the practice of partaking of such food. Safety appears to be secured by existing the wounded part. It is calculated that not less than five hundred elephants are yearly caught in Assam and sent to Western India for sale. At Chittagong, in the south-eastern quarter of Bengal, the mode of catching wild elephants is very different from that adopted in Assam. Herds of fifty elephants are there surrounded by two or three hundred men, jungle is filled, and a regular barricade of trees, with a trench, formed; the elephants are thus unable to break loose; tame elephants are then sent into the enclosure, which is called a Keddah, and the wild elephants are quickly secured with ropes.”


Floods and erosion

A combination of morphological, physiographical, geological and geomorphological conditions cause severe floods in the Brahmaputra basin of Assam. Excessive precipitation every year and huge accumulation of silt are the main causes of floods and erosion. From 1916 to 1926, the total area of the Brahmaputra in Assam was around 3870 sq km; by 2006 it had expanded to 6080 sq km. Since 1950 due to continuous braiding and widening of the river, on an average, about 8000 hectares of land area is engulfed every year. Many villages have been completely eroded in the floods and thousands of families rendered homeless

Institutional arrangements for flood management

Institutional arrangements are in place for river management in Assam so as to prevent floods and erosion. Water Resource Departments of the Government of India, the State Government of Assam, the Brahmaputra Board, and the Central Water Commission, in collaboration with the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) and other national and international agencies, plan and implement projects and programmes for managing the Brahmaputra and its tributaries. FREMAA also implements flood and erosion management projects funded by the Asian Development Bank. In fact, FREMAA is working on developing a reliable flood forecasting system as well as a remote sensing-based mechanism to predict erosion. Many studies have pointed out that if the Brahmaputra channel is narrowed, deepened and aligned straight with the help of parallel guide dams then the river would develop a high velocity, enabling it to carry the entire silt load. This would help prevent the floodwater from rising and also keep a check on erosion and widening of the river bed. Further, it would reduce the impact of floods in the basin area and make the river navigable for ships. That, in turn, would provide carbon-free and cheap transportation of people and goods. Huge areas of arable land would also be reclaimed in the process.

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