A group of Irula men photographed (1871-72).
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Irulas are an ethnic group of India. They inhabit the area of the Nilgiri mountains, in the states of Tamil Nadu and Kerala, India. A scheduled tribe, their population in this region is estimated at 25,000 people. The Irula speak Irula, which belongs to the Dravidian family.
The Irulas 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 4 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.
The Census of Kerala identified 756 Irulan individuals from 189 families, who lived in 9 settlements covering .23 km² in the state.
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.
Early 20th century anthropological literature classified the Irulas under the Negrito ethnic group. Unlike the tribes in the Andaman Islands who have retained their language, Irulas in Nilgiris have adopted the local regional languages such as Tamil and Telugu.
- Perialwar, R. (1979), Phonology of Irula with Vocabulary, Annamalai University
- World Bank grant to improve standard of living for rat-catchers
- Irula Project Proposal and site report
- Dr. Pauline Das, The Irula Language and Literature
- Kerala Forests & Wildlife Department (2004) "Population of Important Forest Dwelling Tribes in Kerala" retrieved 4/4/2007 
- Giving Irulas their due
- Keystone Foundation (2006) "People of the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve" retrieved 3/26/2007(NBR)"People of the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve"