The Padma (Bengali: পদ্মা Pôdda) is a major river in Bangladesh and India (downstream of Giria). It is the main distributary of the Ganges, flowing generally southeast for 120 kilometers (75 mi) to its confluence with the Meghna River near the Bay of Bengal. The city of Rajshahi is situated on the banks of the river. However, over 256 square miles of land, as large as Chicago, has been lost due to erosion of Padma since 1966.
The Padma, Sanskrit for lotus flower, is mentioned in Hindu mythology as a byname for the Goddess Lakshmi.
The name Padma is given to the lower part of the course of the Ganges (Ganga) below the point of the off-take of the Bhagirathi River (India), another Ganges River distributary also known as the Hooghly River. The Padma had, most probably, flowed through a number of channels at different times. Some authors contend that each distributary of the Ganges in its deltaic part is a remnant of an old principal channel, and that starting from the western-most one, the Bhagirathi (in West Bengal, India), each distributary to the east marks a position of a newer channel than the one to the west of it.
Eighteenth-century geographer James Rennell referred to a former course of the Ganges north of its present channel, as follows:
Appearances favour very strongly that the Ganges had its former bed in the tract now occupied by the lakes and morasses between Natore and Jaffiergunge, striking out of the present course by Bauleah to a junction of Burrrampooter or Megna near Fringybazar, where accumulation of two such mighty streams probably scooped out the present amazing bed of the Megna.
The places mentioned by Rennell proceeding from west to east are Rampur Boali, the headquarters of Rajshahi district, Puthia and Natore in the same district and Jaffarganj in the district of Dhaka. The place last-named were shown in a map of the Mymensingh district dated 1861, as a subdistrict (thana) headquarters, about 10 kilometers (6 mi) south-east of Bera Upazila police station. It is now known as Payla Jaffarganj and is close to Elachipur opposite Goalunda. According to Rennell’s theory, therefore, the probable former course of the Ganges would correspond with that of the present channel of the Baral River.
Authorities agree that the Ganges has changed its course and that at different times, each of the distributaries might have been the carrier of its mainstream.
The bed of the Padma is wide, and the river is split up into several channels flowing between constantly shifting sandbanks and islands. During the rains, the current is very strong and even steamers may find difficulty in making headway against it. It is navigable at all seasons of the year by steamers and country boats of all sizes and until recently ranked as one of the most frequented waterways in the world. It is spanned near Paksey by the great Hardinge Bridge over which runs one of the main lines of the Bangladesh Railway.