Mahanadi is one of the important Rivers of India. The river lies in east central India. The length of the river is 559 miles or 900 km. The river has a catchment basin of approximately 132,100 km2. The river traverses the states of Orissa, Chhatisgarh, and Jharkhand.

Origin of Mahanadi

Similar to many other seasonal rivers in India, the Mahanadi is a fusion of a number of hilly torrents. Therefore, the exact origin of the river cannot be identified. Nevertheless, the furthermost source of the river is situated 6 km from the Pharsiya Village to the south of Nagri Town in Dhamtari district of Chattisgarh. The headwaters of the Mahanadi River are situated at an elevation of 442 meters over sea surface. The mountains situated here are a stretch of the Eastern Ghats Mountain Ranges and are headwaters to many other torrents which subsequently moves on to meet the Mahanadi. The major tributaries of the river are the Hasdo and Tel. The river is the principal source of irrigation waters in Orissa.

For the initial 80 km of its itinerary, the river runs according to a northerly itinerary and saps the eastern parts of the Raipur district in Chhatisgarh. The river is quite thin at this phase, the overall span of this Basin does not go across 500-600 meters. Subsequently, the river moves into the old Bilaspur District in Chhatisgarh where it meets the first important tributary of itself, which is known as Seonath.

Middle Itinerary

When the Mahanadi River meets the Seonath, the combined stream runs to the east across the rest of its itinerary. The Hasdeo and Jonk Rivers meet the river in this area prior to moving into Orissa, once it has completed around 50% of its overall stretch. Close to the Sambalpur City, the river is barraged by the Hirakud Dam, which is the biggest earthfill dam in the world. A fused construction of concrete, soil, and stonework, the length of the dam is 24 km. The stretch of the river covers two dams. It also covers two mountains – the Chandili Dunguri on the right and Lamdungri on the left. The river creates the largest artificial lake in the Asian continent with a basin carrying maximum capacity of 743 km2 with a coastline of more than 640 km.

Prior to the building of the dam in 1953, the Mahanadi River had a width of approximately one mile at Sambalpur and transported huge volumes of silt, particularly during the monsoon months. At present, it is a quite docile river once it passes the dam and other small torrents like Ong, Ib, and Tel meet it. Subsequently, the river goes past the borders of the Baudh district and wards off by meandering amid ridges and rims in a sequence of torrents till it arrives at Dholpur in Orissa. The torrents complete their itineraries over here and the Mahanadi river turns to the Eastern Ghat Mountain Ranges, making its course through these mountains via the Satkosia Gorge, which has a length of 64 km. Thick forests coat the mountains beside the river. The Mahanadi penetrates the Orissa plateau at Naraj, where the river flows down amid two mountains and the distance between them is one mile. Naraj is situated at approximately 11 km from Cuttack. A dam has been built here to control the river’s discharge into Cuttack.

Mouth of Mahanadi River

The Mahanadi River goes across Cuttack district in an eastwesterly course. Just prior to moving into the Cuttack City, the river exudes a big distributary, known as the Kathjori. The Cuttack city is situated on the area splitting the two watercourses. The Kathjori subsequently sheds a number of torrents such as the Devi, Kuakhai, and Surua. All of them pour into the sea and the name of the collective flow is Jotdar. The river also has a number of distributaries such as the Birupa, Palka, Chitartala, Nun and Genguti. Subsequently, the Birupa moves on to meet the Brahmani River at Krushnanagar and pours into the Bay of Bengal. The main channel of the Mahanadi River meets the sea through various canals at False Point, Jagatsinghpur, which is close to Paradeep. The collective delta of the various distributaries and the Brahmani River is one of the biggest in India.

Navigation on the Mahanadi River

Before the building of the Hirakud Dam, the river was passable from its mouth till Arang, approximately 150 km from its origin. Nevertheless, a slew of barrages besides the Hirakud Dam have alleviated this problem. At present, vessels are limited to the delta area and the Hirakud basin.

Business and Farming on the Riverbanks of Mahanadi

The Sambalpur City was an important business hub for diamonds in prehistoric periods and the river has been depicted as the Manada in the literatures of Ptolemy. Nevertheless, the Mahanadi Basin is famous for its productive soil and thriving farming practices. Ahead of the Hirakud Dam, the river transported higher amount of silt as compared to any other river in the Indian subcontinent. Consequently, the delta of the river had one of the maximum return per acre in the entire India. At present, farming activities in the basin are mostly dependent on a system of channels that originate from the river. Oilseeds, rice, and sugarcane are the main harvests of the basin. A similarly productive though smaller basin is present in the vicinity of Raipur in the beginning phases of the itinerary of the river.

Water Usage

A mean yearly surface water capacity of 66.9 km³ has been evaluated in this valley. Out of this, 50.0 km³ is usable water. Arable region in the valley is approximately 80,000 km², which is 4% of the overall arable region of India.

Currently, the utilization of surface water in the valley is 17.0 km³. The valley’s live storage potential has grown substantially after India achieved its independence. From only around 0.8 km³ in the pre-project phase, the overall live storage potential of the finished projects has grown to 8.5 km³. Furthermore, a significant storage capacity of more than 5.4 km³ will be formed on culmination of schemes under construction. Extra storage to the extent of more than 11.0 km³ will be available on completion of projects under contemplation. The hydroelectric power capacity of the valley has been evaluated as 627 MW at 60% load factor.

At its maximum capacity during the monsoon, the Mahanadi River has a flow rate of 2 million cubic foot/sec, nearly equal to the much greater Ganges. Nevertheless, because of its recurrent characteristics, the river is primarily a thin canal amid broad sandbanks for the maximum part of the year.


The Mahanadi was infamous for its destructive deluges for majority of its documented history. Nevertheless, the building of the Hirakud Dam has significantly changed the circumstances. At present, a system of channels, dams, and check dams, maintain the river under check. Nonetheless, downpour can still create a huge extent of inundation as witnessed in the month of September 2008 when 16 people lost their lives once the river broke its riverbanks.

Important places on the riverbanks of Mahanadi

During its itinerary, the river passes through important regions such as Koshal, Dandakaranya, and Coastal Plains. It also traverses important cities and administrative areas like the following:

  • Raipur
  • Betul
  • Bilaspur
  • Janjgir
  • Subarnapur
  • Sambalpur
  • Anugul
  • Boudh
  • Kendrapada
  • Cuttack
  • Sonepur
  • Sambalpur
  • Subalaya
  • Birmaharajpur
  • Boudh

Important tourist attractions like Sonarpur Lanka, Satkosia Gorge, and Hookitola Falls are all located on its banks.

Some important suggestions for tourists

  • Mahanadi does not feature any Ghats in specific, nevertheless you can visit to watch it in the Hirakund Dam. One of the principal tourist attractions in this area is the Hirakund Dam.
  • The Mahanadi River has a spiritual importance among the religious devotees. Every year, large numbers of tourists throng in Cuttack to visit this river.
  • When you’re touring, you must keep your essential documents such as residential proof, driving license, and passport with you. You should not share these details with any person you don’t know.
  • There are many eateries close to Mahanadi. You can also have the food in your hotel or place of accommodation. In religious spots, the eating options are quite limited. Specifically, nonvegetarian food is not permitted.
  • You should visit all the places in a group. This would cut down your traveling expenses. Avoid touring alone.
  • You should convert your currency only from government banks or regulated banks. You must not depend on unknown persons.

The Mahanadi River is regarded as the lifeline of Chhatisgarh. The river has a lot of religious and cultural significance. The waters of the river are regarded as propitious for any event. One of the tallest dams in the world, the Hirakud Dam is situated on this river. The dam is also used for generating hydroelectric power at Sambalpur. The Hirakud Dam is also one of the biggest earth fill dams in the world.

Last Updated on : March 13, 2020