The word agrahāra (agrahara) occurs in at least two places in Mahābhārata (Mahabharata). The first time is in Vanaparva when Bhīma (Bhima), the king of Vidarbha sent a group of brāhmaṇas (brahmanas) to bring him news about his son-in-law and daughter, the destitute King Nala and his wife, Damayantī (Damayanti). To appease the brāhmaṇas, Bhīma had said, “I shall present to you a city-like village as agrahāra“— agrahāraṃ ca dāsyāmi grāmaṃ nagarasammitam.

Agrahāra is actually a form of stipend. The receiver would be given a a certain area of land, and it could be a prosperous village as well. Primarily, it were the brāhmaṇas who used to enjoy the agrahāra. However, in practice, it was seen that vaidyas, courtiers, teachers, erudite scholars who could expound on scriptures, and even women received plots of land, villages and farms as agrahāra. Nīlakaṇṭha (Nilakantha), in his annotation on the verse mentioned above has written, “Agra means those lands, acreage etc. which the king used to set aside from his own wealth and property in the very beginning  for the use of brāhmaṇas”—

agraṃ brāhmaṇa bhojanam. Tadarthaṃ hriyante rāja

dhanāt pṛthak kriyante te’ grahārāḥ kṣetrādayaḥ.

The second example in Mahābhārata comes up in Draupadī’s (Draupadi’s) commentary of thoughts on household life to Kṛṣṇa’s (Krishna’s) beloved Satyabhāmā (Satyabhama). Draupadī had said that first and foremost she used to make preparations for offering agrahāra to Vedic brāhmaṇas— tān sarvān agrahāreṇa brāhmaṇān brahmavādinaḥ— she used to pay felicitate them by offering them food and beverages, clothes, etc. Here, the annotator Nīlakaṇṭha explained that this is the custom of bestowing upon brāhmaṇas the initial honour by presenting food and clothing to them. However, it needs to be understood that though Draupadī said this during her period of exile in the forests, she was referring to a previously followed royal practice. Thus agrahāra here should also mean the bestowal of lands, farms etc. Moreover, there are various other instances and news recorded of queen consorts honouring brāhmaṇas with land.

People who were favoured with agrahāra were called agrahārika (agraharika). Granting land necessary for earning a livelihood to many brāhmaṇas often led to the formation of entire localities of agrahārika brāhmaṇas. Generally, the rights of a land were also presented to the person receiving the agrahāra and taxes were waived so that the property could be passed down to, and enjoyed by, future generations of the agrahārika. Again, in some cases, though taxes were levied on the agrahāra, they were specifically set aside for defraying the expenses of agrahāra lands. Sometimes, the amount obtained as taxes were used as remuneration for the people working on agrahāra lands. At a later period, there appeared terms like ‘devāgrahāra‘ (devagrahara) and ‘vaiśyāgrahāra’ (vaishyagrahara). Many different terms related to agrahāra were coined as well, like ‘mahāgrahāra‘ (mahagrahara), ‘brahmapurī‘ (brahmapuri), ‘caturvedimaṇḍala‘ (chaturvedimandala) and ‘aṅgabhoga‘ (angabhoga).

[For more details: The complete works of Amūlyacaraṇa Vidyabhūṣaṇa, Volume 1, Pg. 446-462; D.C. Sircar, Indian Epigraphical Glossary, pp 10-11]