Irula or Irulas, a Scheduled Tribe, are one of the major tribes if Tamil Nadu and are distributed in twelve districts which includes the Nilgiris. The Irula total population in Tamil Nadu, according to 2001 census is 155606 (77942 males and 77664 females) and their literacy rates is 34.30 per cent. In Tamil Nadu, the Irula are known by several names as Irular, Iruligaru, Iruliga, Iruvan, Villiar, Kadu Poojaris etc, but the Irula people who are dwelling in Nilgiris district prefer to call themselves as "Irulas". The name Irula is supposed to be derived from the Tamil word "Irul" meaning darkness which may refer to their black skin complexion. The Government of India, identified the Irula as one of the six primitive tribal groups of Tamil Nadu.

In Nilgiri District, Irulas are spread over in four taluks, Kundah, Kotagiri, Coonoor and Udhagamandalam and their total population in Nilgiri district as per survey(Jakka Parthasarathy 200) was 8714, total families 1913 and they are inhabiting in 67 villages. They speak Irula, a dialect which is a south Dravidian language of the Tamil-Malayalam sub group. Irula settlement is called as aral, represent many houses built contiguous to each other. Typical man wears a short piece of cloth around the waist and a towel on his shoulder, woman wears thundu, (a piece of cloth) around the waist in combination with the modern blouse. They are non-vegetarians.

The Irulas in Nilgiri district have three social divisions known as Mudumars (southern Irulas of Kotagiri base), Kasabas (northern Irulas of Masinagudi base), Urali Irulas of Attapady (Karala) base. Irulas are further divided into seven exogamous groups called Kulams, which regulate their marital alliances. They practice cross cousin marriages. Monogamy is the common form of marriage. Child marriages are common, They are rigid regarding taboos connected with pre delivery, Post delivery, tonsure ceremony, puberty and death. They follow the male equigeniture mode of inheritance. Irulas were hunters and gatherers. Shortt (1868:62) wrote that, " Irulas collected wild fruits, herbs and roots to appease hunger along with beeswax, drugs, dyes, gum, honey and medicinal herbs. The gathered products where exchanged with lowlanders for cloth or food". Now most of the Irulas are wage labourers working in tea estates. The Irula have headman called "Maniyakara". Who presides over their tribal council. The Irula are partly Hinduized, but have their own autochthonous-indigenous religious system .An Irula priest performs rituals at the famous Rangaswamy temple of rangan peak in Nilgiri hills As mentioned elsewhere Irulas are suffering because of much interference of non- tribals into their aesthetic, social and cultural unchanged preserves .According to some anthropologists, the Irula of the Nilgiris afford a case for study of modes of adaptation, acculturation and modernization.


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