A number of rice resistance genes, called Xa genes, have been identified that confer resistance against various strains of Xanthomonas oryzae pv. oryzae (Xoo), the causal agent of bacterial blight. An understanding of pathotype diversity within the target pathogen population is required for identifying the Xa genes that are to be deployed for development of resistant rice cultivars. Among 1024 isolates of Xoo collected from 20 different states of India, 11 major pathotypes were distinguished based on their reaction towards ten Xa genes (Xa1, Xa3, Xa4, xa5, Xa7, xa8, Xa10, Xa11, xa13, Xa21). Isolates belonging to pathotype III showing incompatible interaction towards xa8, xa13 and Xa21 and compatible interaction towards the rest of Xa genes formed the most frequent (41%) and widely distributed pathotype. The vast majority of the assayed Xoo isolates were incompatible with one or more Xa genes. Exceptionally, the isolates of pathotype XI were virulent on all Xa genes, but have restricted distribution. Considering the individual R-genes, Xa21 appeared as the most broadly effective, conferring resistance against 88 % of the isolates, followed in decreasing order by xa13 (84 %), xa8 (64 %), xa5 (30 %), Xa7 (17 %) and Xa4 (14 %). Fifty isolates representing all the eleven pathotypes were analyzed by southern hybridization to determine their genetic relatedness using the IS1112 repeat element of Xoo. Isolates belonging to pathotype XI were the most divergent. The results suggest that one RFLP haplotype that is widely distributed all over India and is represented in strains from five different pathotypes might be an ancestral haplotype. A rice line with xa5, xa13 and Xa21 resistance genes is resistant to all strains, including those belonging to pathotype XI. This three gene combination appears to be the most suitable Xa gene combination to be deployed in Indian rice cultivars.