Irula men from the Nilgiri Hills in Tamil Nadu, c.1871
Total population
213,641[1] (2011 census)
Regions with significant populations
Tamil Nadu189,621
Related ethnic groups
Soliga, Tamil, Yerukala

Irula, also known as Iruliga, are a Dravidian ethnic group inhabiting the Indian states of Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Karnataka.[2] A scheduled tribe, their population in this region is estimated at around 200,000 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." Thurston speculated that it either referred to the darkness of the jungles which they inhabited or their dark skin complexion.[6][7]


The tribe numbers around 200,000 spread across three states: 189,621 in Tamil Nadu, 23,721 in Kerala and 10,259 in Karnataka. Those in Karnataka are named Iruligas. The Irulas are mainly concentrated in northern Tamil Nadu: in a wedge extending from Krishnagiri and Dharmapuri districts in the west to Ariyalur and Cuddalore districts in the south and Tiruvallur district in the north. Small populations live in Coimbatore and Nilgiris districts and were classified by Thurston as a different population. In Kerala, the Irulas are in Palakkad district, while in Karnataka they are concentrated in Ramanagara and Bangalore districts.[1]


Main article: Genetics and archaeogenetics of South Asia

Irula farmers in Tamil Nadu
Irula farmers in Tamil Nadu

A study by Yelmen et al (2019) found that the Irula were the closest likely proxy for the indigenous 'AASI', or Ancient Ancestral South Indian, one of the presumed founder and autochthonous original Indian populations. They showed a closer fit when modelled than alternatives that have been suggested such as the Onge or East Asians.[8] The DNA analysis (2018) of a skeleton from the Indus Valley Civilisation found in Rakhigarhi showed greater affinity with the Irula people than any other modern ethnic group in India.[9]


The Irula speak the Irula language, a Dravidian language that is closely related to Tamil.[10]


Irula man and woman tilling the soil.
Irula man and woman tilling the soil.
Irala rat catchers, Tamil Nadu
Irala rat catchers, Tamil Nadu

Traditionally, the main occupation of the Irulas has been snake, rat catching and honey collection. They also work as labourers[11] (coolies) in the fields of the landlords during the sowing and harvesting seasons or in the rice mills. Fishing and cattle farm 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.[12] The Irula men and their translators were paid $70,000 by the State of Florida, and captured 14 pythons in less than two weeks.[13]

Caste Discrimination

Irula people face severe discrimination and harassment from other castes and numerous such cases are reported every year.

Police Atrocities

Irula people have been continuously harassed and abused by Tamil Nadu State Police for decades. Some of the well-known and recently happened events are:

See also


  1. ^ a b "A-11 Individual Scheduled Tribe Primary Census Abstract Data and its Appendix". Government of India. Retrieved 28 October 2017.
  2. ^ Perialwar, R. (1979), Phonology of Irula with Vocabulary, Annamalai University
  3. ^ a b World Bank grant to improve standard of living for rat-catchers
  4. ^ Irula Project Proposal and site report
  5. ^ President gives nod to add Puducherry's Irular community in the Scheduled Tribes list
  6. ^ Thurston, Edgar (1909). Castes and Tribes of Southern India.
  7. ^ H.V. Nanjundayya; L.K. Anathakrishna (1930). The Mysore tribes and castes. Mysore, Mysore University.
  8. ^ Yelmen, Burack; Mondal, Mayukh; Marnetto, David; Pathak, Ajay; Montinaro, Francesco; Romero, Irene; Kivisild, Toomas; Metspalu, Mait; Pagani, Luca (5 April 2019). "Demographic Histories and Opposite Selective Pressures in Modern South Asian Populations". Molecular Biology and Evolution. 36 (8): 1628–1642. doi:10.1093/molbev/msz037. PMC 6657728. PMID 30952160.
  9. ^ 4500-year-old DNA from Rakhigarhi reveals evidence that will unsettle Hindutva nationalists [1]
  10. ^ "People of the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve". Keystone Foundation. 2006. Archived from the original on 29 September 2007. Retrieved 26 March 2007.
  11. ^ "Criminalizing Scheduled Tribes in Post Independence State". Article 51-A. 28 July 2021. Archived from the original on 18 January 2022. Retrieved 28 July 2021.
  12. ^ Snake hunters from India are the latest weapons in Florida’s war on pythons
  13. ^ One Florida agency put out a want ad for python killers
  14. ^ Marx, Karal (27 July 2020). "Tamil Nadu: Four assault Irula girl for seeking caste certificate". The Times of India. Retrieved 21 November 2021.((cite web)): CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  15. ^ Pramod Madhav (20 September 2021). "Tamil Nadu: Irula tribe members say they were thrashed, urinated upon after inter-caste couple eloped". India Today. Retrieved 21 November 2021.((cite web)): CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  16. ^ "Irular victims of TN's decade-old rape, torture case still wait for trial to begin". New Indian Express.
  17. ^ "Criminalizing Scheduled Tribes in Post Independence State". Article 51A. Archived from the original on 18 January 2022. Retrieved 28 July 2021.
  18. ^ "ஜெய்பீம் பட பாணியில் இருளர் இன சிறுவன் 4 பொய் வழக்குகள் பதிவு?". Abp Tamilnadu.