Irula people

A group of Irula men photographed (1871-72).
Total population
203,382[1] (2011 census)
Regions with significant populations
Tamil Nadu 189,621
Kerala 23,721
Irula language
Related ethnic groups
Soliga, Tamil, Yerukala

Irula are an Adivasi group inhabiting the area of the Nilgiri mountains, in the states of Tamil Nadu and Kerala, India.[2] A scheduled tribe, their population in this region is estimated at 25,000 people.[3][4] People of Irula ethnicity are called Irular, and speak Irula, which belongs to the Dravidian family.[5]


Irular means "dark people" in Tamil and Malayalam, from the root word irul, meaning "darkness", in reference to their dark skin complexion.[6]

The tribe numbers 189,621 in significant region of Tamil Nadu and 23,721 in Kerala.


Early 20th century anthropological literature classified the Irular under the Negrito ethnic group. Later day research showed that were originally Austric in origin.[4][7]


Unlike the Negrito tribes in the Andaman Islands who have retained their language, Irular speak the Irula language, a Dravidian language that is closely related to Tamil, Yerukala, Sholaga and other Tamil languages.[8]


Irular live in two south Indian states – Tamil Nadu and Kerala. In Tamil Nadu they live in the Nilgiris, Coimbatore and Erode districts. In Kerala they live in the Palakkad district and Attapady and Walayar panchayats.

They live in four taluks in Coimbatore district, namely Coimbatore South, Coimbatore North, Avinashi and Madathukulam. The Coimbatore district houses 4254 Irulas in 40 settlements comprising 139 villages. Nearly 100 Vettakada Irula settlements are found in the forest areas or in the deep mountainous jungles. There are 4 tribal settlements in the Siruvani Hills comprising 14 villages.[9]

The Census of Kerala identified 756 Irulan individuals from 189 families, who lived in 9 settlements covering .23 km² in the state.[10]


Traditionally, the main occupation of the Irulas has been snake and rat catching. They also work as labourers (coolies) in the fields of the landlords during the sowing and harvesting seasons or in the rice mills. Fishing is also a major occupation.

Rats destroy a quarter of the grain grown on Tamil Nadu-area farms annually. To combat this pest, Irula men use a traditional earthen pot fumigation method. Smoke is blown through their mouths, which leads to severe respiratory and heart problems.[3]

In January 2017, Masi Sadaiyan and Vadivel Gopal from the Irula tribe of Tamil Nadu were brought in, along with two translators, to work with detection dogs to track down and capture invasive Burmese pythons in Key Largo, Florida.[11] The Irula men and their translators were paid $70,000 by the State of Florida, and captured 14 pythons in less than two weeks.[12]

See also


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