Khasakkinte Itihasam

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Khasakkinte Itihasam
Khasak 4.jpg
AuthorO.V. Vijayan
  • 1969–1990 (Current Books)
  • 1990 onwards (D.C. Books)
PublisherDC Books

Khasakkinte Ithihasam (Malayalam:ഖസാക്കിന്റെ ഇതിഹാസം) is a Malayalam novel written by the Indian writer O. V. Vijayan. First published in 1969 and generally referred to as Khasak in literary circles, the novel has been reprinted more than fifty times, making it one of the most best-selling novels in South Asia.[1][2]

Khasakkinte Itihasam has been translated into French, German and English (the last by the author himself, published in 1994 under the title The Legends of Khasak, and differing substantially from the original in its sensibility - most readers prefer to read it as an independent novel by Vijayan in English rather than seeing it as a translation).[3]


Khasakkinte Itihasam does not have a single narrative plot. It is crafted in the form of the spiritual journey of an under-graduate dropout, Ravi, plagued by the guilt of an illicit affair he had with his stepmother. Ravi abandons a bright academic career and a research offer from Princeton University. He deserts his lover Padma and leaves on a long pilgrimage, which finally brings him to the small hamlet of Khasak near Palakkad. At Khasak, he starts a single-teacher school as part of the District Board’s education initiative. The novel begins with Ravi’s arrival at Khasak and his encounters with its people, Allappicha Mollakka, Appukkili, Shivaraman Nair, Madhavan Nair, Kuppuvachan, Maimoona, Khaliyar, Aliyar, and the students of his school like Kunhamina, Karuvu, Unipparadi, Kochusuhara and others. After some years, his lover Padma calls on him and Ravi decides to leave Khasak. He commits suicide through snake-bite while waiting for a bus at Koomankavu.

The novel has no story-line per se. It recounts the numerous encounters of Khasak from a spiritual and philosophical frame of mind. Through these encounters, Vijayan narrates numerous stories, myths and superstitions cherished in Khasak. He places them in opposition to the scientific and rational world outside, which is now making inroads into the hamlet through Ravi's single-teacher school. The irony of the interface between these two worlds occupies a substantial space in the novel. Through the myths and stories, Vijayan also explores similar encounters of the past recounted by the people of Khasak, enabling him to have a distinctly unique view of cultural encounters across time and space.


Khasakkinte Itihasam was inspired by Vijayan's stay at a village called Thasarak near Palakkad for a year. His sister O.V. Usha was appointed as the teacher of a single-teacher school in the village. Most of the characters in the novel were modelled after real-life characters whom Vijayan encountered in Thasarak. In an afterword to the English translation of the novel Vijayan wrote:

It had all begun this way: in 1956 my sister got a teaching assignment in the village of Thasarak. This was part of a State scheme to send barefoot graduates to man single-teacher schools in backward villages.

Since it was hard for a girl to be on her own in a remote village, my parents had rented a little farmhouse and moved in with my sister. Meanwhile I had been sacked from the college where I taught. Jobless and at a loose end, I too joined them in Thasarak to drown my sorrows.... Destiny had been readying me for Khasak."[4]

Vijayan took twelve years to complete Khasakkinte Itihasam.

The character Appukkili was originally created by Vijayan for his short story "Appukkili" which was published in 1958.


Khasakkinte Itihasam was serialised in Mathrubhumi weekly in 28 parts, between 28 January 1968 and 4 August 1968. It was published as a book by Current Books in 1969. The first DC Books edition came in 1990.


Sunil K. Poolani:

"So, who was Vijayan? For the uninitiated (which is really unlikely if you are a connoisseur of Indian literature, political cartooning or journalism) he is, to put it in one sentence, one of the greatest writers the world has ever produced. And what raised him to that pedestal is his first and best novel, The Legend of Khasak, which was published around the same time [as] that of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s path-breaking One Hundred Years of Solitude. Hence one could fairly conclude that two of the greatest of writers of the twentieth century evolved at the same time, changing the course of Malayalam and Spanish literatures respectively, making the two individual works the benchmarks in their own respective languages."[5]

T.P. Rajeevan:

"It might be the author's truthful "self-dissent" during the course of the writing that made Khasak, which otherwise would have ended up as a mundane village romance, a seminal work that addressed some of the deeper issues of an enlightened individual's personal and social existence in the post-independence period. Everything in this novel — the theme, the characters, the language, the style, the narration, the way myth and reality, realism and fantasy mix — was ingenious and unprecedented in Malayalam."[6]

Lukose Mathew:

"The Legends of Khasak stands out in the collection for its originality and depth. In this book Vijayan succeeded in universalising his personal experience which is the hallmark of great works of art."[7]

Tarun Tejpal:

"Critics point out that there are plenty of established literary giants whose works have been reasonably well translated. Foremost among them is O.V. Vijayan, whose Malayalam-language masterpiece, The Legends of Khasak, arguably ranks alongside Rushdie's own output. The story line may not leap across continents and ages, as Rushdie's works do. But the book contains the same magical realism that has made Rushdie an international celebrity."[7]

K. Satchidanandan:

"This novel literally revolutionised Malayalam fiction. Its interweaving of myth and reality, its lyrical intensity, its black humour, its freshness of idiom with its mixing of the provincial and the profound and its combinatorial wordplay, its juxtaposition of the erotic and the metaphysical, the crass and the sublime, the real and the surreal, guilt and expiation, physical desire and existential angst, and its innovative narrative strategy with its deft manipulation of time and space together created a new readership with a novel sensibility and transformed the Malayali imagination forever."[8]

English translation[edit]

Vijayan published his English translation of Khasakkinte Itihasam in 1994, long after he experienced an epistemological break after meeting the monk Swami Karunakara Guru.[9] The early Vijayan was marked by deep philosophical doubt and skepticism, but the later Vijayan upheld certitudes.[3] The Legends of Khasak was written by the Vijayan of certitudes, which makes it a very different novel in its sensibility, in spite of being a translation. One critic makes the following comparison between Khasakkinte Itihasam and The Legends of Khasak to prove this point.[3] A literal translation of an important passage in Khasakkinte Itihasam reads:

"What is the truth about him?" They asked one another.
They recalled the spell that the Mollakka had sought to cast on Nizam Ali. It had no effect on him.
"The Khazi's truth," they said, "is the Sheikh's truth."
"What then of the Mollakka's? Is he untrue?" They were puzzled.
"He too is the truth."
"How can that be so?"
"Because truths are many."

In The Legends of Khasak, Vijayan rendered this passage thus:

"What is the Khazi's truth?" The troubled elders asked one another.
They recalled the spell the mulla had tried to cast on Nizam Ali.
They had seen the spell fail.
"The Khazi's truth," they told themselves, "is the Sheikh's truth."
"If that be so," the troubled minds were in search of certitude, "is Mollakka the untruth?"
"He is the truth too."
"How is it so?"
"Many truths make the big truth."

Some critics divide Malayalam literature into works written before Khasak and after Khasak.[10]


  1. ^ "Njattupura recreates Thasrak magic". The Hindu. 22 March 2015. Retrieved February 1, 2016.
  2. ^ "Khasakkinte Ithihasam on Good Reads". Good Reads. 2016. Retrieved February 1, 2016.
  3. ^ a b c P.P. Raveendran, "Translation and Sensibility: The Khasak Landscape in Malayalam and English", Indian Literature XLIII (3), p.177-186
  4. ^ O.V.Vijayan, Selected Fiction, Penguin Books, New Delhi, 1998, p.173
  5. ^ RAHA PEN: Obituary: O V Vijayan by Sunil K Poolani
  6. ^ The Hindu : Literary Review : Spiritual outsider
  7. ^ a b The Legends of Khasak - O.V.Vijayan
  8. ^ A sage and an iconoclast
  9. ^ see the dedication in Gurusagaram, D.C.Books, Kottayam, 1987
  10. ^ "Pilgrimage to Thassarak". Daily Pioneer. 14 July 2013. Retrieved February 1, 2016.

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