By Swami Harshananda
Agrahāra literally means ‘grant given to brāhmaṇas’.
Since the most ancient times brāhmaṇas, men of learning, austerity and character, have commanded the respect of the society. Kings used to vie with one another in granting land, cows and wealth to them for their personal use. Villages or lands (parts of villages) given to them for their maintenance have been known as ‘agrahāra.’ People living in such agrahāras were called ‘mahājanas.’ They were exempted by the kings from the payment of taxes and also punishment for lapses in behavior unless they were of a serious nature like treason, murder etc. The mahājanas themselves regulated the conduct of the inhabitants of the agrahāra.
Agrahāras were intended to be centers of learning and the mahājanas were expected to be models of conduct.
- The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore