Ganges River, a major river of India and Bangladesh and one of the grea rivers of the world. It is formed by the junction of the Bhagirathi and Alaknanda rivers in the foothills of the Himalayas in northern India. The Ganges flows generally southeastward, in a 1,550-mile (2,494-km) course to the Bay of Bengal. Most of the river's course is across the Ganges Plain, a flat and fertile land lying between the snow-clad Himalayas and the plateaus and hills of central India.

The Ganges has numerous tributaries, including the Yamuna (Jumna), Ghaghara, Gandak, and Son. In Bangladesh, the Ganges divides into a number of branches, or distributaries, which merge with those of the Brahmaputra (called the Jamuna in this area). Many distributaries carry the combined waters through the Ganges-Brahmaputra delta into the Bay of Bengal. The chief branch is the Padma River on the east side of the delta. It becomes the Meghna River near the coast. The Hooghly River, on which Kolkata (Calcutta) is situated, is the main distributary on the west side of the delta. Between the Hooghly and the Meghna lies a swamp, stretching 200 miles (320 km) along the coast, called the Sundarbans.

Floods occur frequently, especially on the delta. They come mainly during summer (June through September), when the southwest monsoon brings heavy rain. Tropical cyclones and melting Himalayan snows add to the danger of flooding. During the rest of the year the basin is relatively dry, and the river flows at low level.

To Hindus the Ganges is a sacred river, one strongly enmeshed with their religious beliefs. Its waters are believed to be holy and capable of washing away sins. The river's banks are dotted with templed cities. The holiest of the cities is Varanasi (Banaras).

The Ganges Plain, with its deep, rich soils, is one of the most productive agricultural regions in Asia. Grains (especially rice and wheat), sugarcane, cotton, jute, and oilseeds are the main crops. During the dry season the river provides irrigation water, chiefly through the Upper and Lower Ganges canals, both of which are in the west.

The plain is also one of the world's most densely populated regions. On or near the Ganges and its tributaries stand many of India's principal cities.