Akhda (akhra) was and still is an important socio-cultural institution in Bangladesh and eastern India, although its importance has declined in recent years. The word is derived from the sanskrit word aksabata, originally meaning a ground for wrestling duels or sports. In course of time it's meaning expanded to include a place for physical and moral drills, wrestling or practising Vaisnava rites. Religious mendicants set up akhdas for their habitation and spiritual exercises. As a traditional institution for the physical and moral training of youths, it was linked to the religious practices of some minor cults of Bengal. During the pre-British period, akhdas received patronage through land grants from zamindars and the government.
In Bengal, the Vaishnavas had innumerable akhdas. Up to the middle of the 20th century, every Hindu area used to have a Vaishnava akhda. One of the daily routines of the Vaishnavas of these akhdas was to go round the village, waking up the villagers by singing. In exchange the villagers used to give them money or grain.
The administration of william bentinck (1828-1835) took over a great number of lakheraj (rent-free) tenures from the akhdadars. This measure roused considerable resentment among those who maintained akhdas. But though the institution was considerably undermined by the resumption proceedings of the colonial government, it continued to remain a dynamic social and cultural institution down to the third decade of the 20th century.
The institution was used extensively by swadeshi and terrorist activists of the first two decades of the 20th century. In the guise of physical and spiritual exercises, the anti-British political activists received training in firearms and lathi (stick) in various akhdas of calcutta, dhaka and barisal. Pulin Bihari Das, the founder of the Dhaka Anushilan Samiti, himself owned an akhda in Dhaka. Etymologically, akhda and anuxilan (physical exercise) are synonymous. The akhda as a community institution for physical and moral welfare is now more or less extinct. Modern gymnasiums and clubs have now replaced it.
Many akhdas arose in Bangladesh as abodes of fakirs and mendicants. The akhdas of the bauls were quite common. The akhda of fakir lalon shah in village Chheuria of kushtia district is still famous. [Sirajul Islam]