The prevalence of memes in Indian Culture

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The prevalence of mimes in Indian Culture


Before reading Richard Dawkins analogy between genes and memes I was of the opinion that a meme is nothing but a myth or a superstition that has existed in a particular culture. But a detailed research of this chapter impels me to think of the evolution of this meme.

Through this discussion I want to make a claim that a meme also represents a kind of evolution. Since time immemorial the concept of the term “churel” has existed in India, not through a manuscript but in an oral tradition. Dawkins is right when he says that language is the main fuel that propels meme in a culture. The rate of the rise of a language is far higher than the rate of genetic evolution. Another important fact that we come to know is that language grows through non-genetic means1. Dawkins gives the example of birds2 that showed evolution not by genes but by language.

Dawkins speaks of the mutability of genes. The genes that a child has today may become halved soon, and at one point of time the resemblance might as well vanish. But it is not the case with memes. The meme of a churel today in India has not lost its hold on people. In different parts of India churel is known by different names. It shows the evolution of the meme in as scientific a manner as the genetic evolution. In east India and west India3, it is believed that a churel is a witch that entices the young children, and devours them in a lonely corner of the village. It is also said that she eats the young babies in order to maintain her youth and looks.

Dawkins says that a meme can also be as mutated as a gene is. This is also true when we find that the image associated with that of a churel changes as we travel in India. In some parts of the country a churel is an old hag with backward feet4. She looks horrible with wrinkles all over the body. But in other folklores, a churel is shown to be very attractive woman, not unlike Lamia, a beautiful maiden who is after the young and handsome men5 in order to satiate her libido. In some versions the churel is said to be feeding on the human blood while some portray her as guzzling the semen.

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With reference to the origin of the word churel there is no consensus. Like a meme churel may have come from the “soup of human culture.6” Many stories of churel speak of their becoming witches after they had died during childbirth7. Other anecdotes say that churel rose as an attempt to wreak vengeance on their unfaithful male counterparts. Some stories relate their arrival just to taste the carnal pleasures with respect to the fact they died virgins.

It appears that the connotation of this meme has much to do with our blind faith. The concept of churel is ...

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