Historically Puri was attacked by invaders during non-Hindu rule in India. As per the record, during the regime of King Chodaganga Deva in 11th century, Jagagharas were established around the temple of Lord Jagannath to safeguard the temple. The Meghanada Prachira (huge wall around the Jagannath Temple complex) was not built at that time and it was the responsibility of the members of Jagagharas to protect the temple and people of Puri. Jagagharas are also known as ‘Jagas’ and ‘Akhadas’. Most of the local people called them as ‘Jagas’. The word ‘Jaga’ came from the Persian word ‘Jagat’ which means place. The Jaga culture takes a key position in the history of Puri.
The surrounding area of Lord Jagannath Temple is divided into various Sahis. In local language 'Sahi' means a particular area or locality. There are seven very old sahis in Puri on both sides of the grand road and around the Jagannath temple. Each Sahi has its own Jagagharas. Jagagharas are places for learning martial arts by local youths. The Jagagharas in different Sahis are responsible to train the local people with wrestling, body building, acrobats and various war techniques like handling of sword, waving of sticks (lathis in local language), circling of ropes with fire balls at the end (banaties in local language), rope climbing, diving and swimming etc. Jagagharas are strictly meant for the boys and women are not allowed to enter.
Jagagharas were not only imparting physical education and training, but also considered as the traditional cultural institutions of Puri to teach gotipua dance and music. Jagagharas are also places of entertainments for local youths of Puri. As per the process three things must be present in a Jagaghara i.e. a wrestling arena, a temple and a pond. The presiding deity of the temple of each Jagaghara is either Lord Hanuman or Goddess Durga because they are worshipped as the symbol of power, energy and courage. The youths of a Sahi were attached to their nearest Jagaghara. The members of the Jagaghara called each other as ‘Sanga’ means friend in local language.
The members usually come to the Jagaghara early in the morning, where they brush their teeth, take bath in the pond, offer prayer to temple God/Goddess of the Jagaghara. In the afternoon, after returning from their daily work, the members again come back to their respective Jagagharas. They massage mustard oil among themselves and practice wrestling, body building and various other physical activities. The Jagagharas provide enough scope to the youths of Puri for mutual friendship and to build community. Jagas are not restricted to only youths, but children and old people of the Sahi are also coming to their Jagaghara for relaxing and entertainment without any discrimination of caste and creed. In short, Jagagharas are centers where Janga (practice physical exercise together), Sanga (friends), Bhanga (taking hemp together), Pangata (feasting together), Sangeeta (music) are all found in one place.
There are no specific rules for naming a Jagaghara, but it’s found from the names of existing Jagagharas that few Jagagharas have ‘Gada’ associated with their names like Dhwajagada, Luhagada, Malligada, Kadambagada, Bajragada, Juigada, Jaigada and Champagada etc. In local Odia language ‘Gada’ means ‘Fort’. Few Jagagharas have ‘Kota’ associated with their names like Khakikota, Sankhakota, Nagakota, Marichikota and Jadukota etc. ‘Kota’ is a Sanskrit derived word which also means ‘Fort’. In early days, rich people of Puri offered land for the construction of Jagagharas in their locality. So many Jagagharas are named after their names like Bhatta Jaga, Jamai Khuntia Jaga, Rahas Mohanty Jaga, Adanga Tiadi Jaga, Badu Mohapatra Jaga etc.
Jagagharas are closely associated with various cultural events and festivals of Puri. Two major festivals where the inmates of Jagagharas take part are ‘Chandana Yatra’ and ‘Sahi Yatra’. During Chandana Yatra, for 21 days, the members of various Jagagharas go to the Narendra pond for a royal bath in grand procession. The traditional weapons of Jagagharas are taken out to the street in procession and the wrestlers get an opportunity to display various forms of martial arts with swords, fireballs, sticks and knives to show their strength. Sahi Yatra is a street play organized by different Jagagharas for the entertainment of the public. In Sahi Yatra the members of Jagagharas dress up themselves as Ravana, Parsuram, Naga, Medha etc. and various historical stories are acted to refresh the traditional memories of past days.