In pot experiments, variations in survival rate, shoot elongation, relative growth index, dry matter, chlorophyll, soluble sugar and starch contents were evaluated in two consecutive years under well-drained and completely submerged conditions. Principal component analysis showed that the first three axes contributed 96.820% of the total variation among the landraces, indicating wide variation between genotypes. Major traits such as survival rate, relative growth index, soluble sugar and starch contents appeared to be important determinants of phenotypic diversity among the landraces. Phenotypic coefficient of variance was higher than genotypic coefficient of variance for all the traits and all showed high heritability (90.38%–99.54%). Five rice landraces (Samudrabali, Basnamundi, Gadaba, Surudaka and Dokarakuji) were the most tolerant to submergence. When submerged for up to 14 d, Samudrabali, Basnamundi and Godoba were notable for having greater survival rates than a standard submergence tolerant variety FR13A, and also notable for elongating more vigorously and accumulating more biomass. These three landraces may therefore be especially useful in lowland rice growing areas that are affected by both moderate stagnant water and flash flooding. Molecular genotyping revealed that the submergence tolerance of Samudrabali, Basnamundi and Godoba is linked to the presence of one or more different Sub1 loci and it may well prove useful for breeding improved submergence tolerant rice varieties, thereby assising to improve yield stability in the rainfed lowland agro-ecosystem.