|213,641 (2011 census)|
|Regions with significant populations|
|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. A scheduled tribe, their population in this region is estimated at around 200,000 people. People of Irula ethnicity are called Irular, and speak Irula, which belongs to the Dravidian family.
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.
The tribe numbers around 215,000 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.
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.
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.
The Irula speak the Irula language, a Dravidian language that is closely related to Tamil.
Traditionally, the main occupation of the Irulas has been snake, rat catching and honey collection. They also work as labourers (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.
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. The Irula men and their translators were paid $70,000 by the State of Florida, and captured 14 pythons in less than two weeks.