The Irulas are found mainly in the southern and eastern
slopes of the Nilgiri
hills. They are generally considered to have drifted to the Nilgiris
from the hilly terrains of Attapadi and Siruvani valleys in Kerala and the
adjoining Anaikatti area in Coimbatore.
Among the tribes of the Nilgiris, the Irulas are most numerous, next only to the Badagas. They are reported to be in possession of excellent medico-botanical knowledge of herbal wealth and related vegetation in their immediate vicinities.
Similarities With Kurumbas
The Irulas have many points in common with the Kurumbas. Like them, they are dwellers of the jungle, and hence they derive their name, which literally signifies "People of the darkness". They, like the Kurumbas live in the lower reach of the Nilgiris in the south and east in villages with detached huts made of split bamboo. Their villages are called 'Mottas' like those of the Kurumbas.
The Irulas are sub-divided into the following groups; Poongkaru, Kudagar Kalkatti, Vellaka, Devala and Koppillingam. Marriage ties are rather loose. The Irula marriage and funeral ceremonies are simple. Marriages are followed by feast and dance, and some Kurumbas are invited.
Irulas are said to worship Vishnu in their own temple. Irula temples aren't imposing, consisting as they do of circles of rough stones, each enclosing an upright one with iron tridents fixed in the ground.
They are many traditions concerning their power over wild beasts. They are accredited with being able to tame tigers, and the fable goes that the women when in the woods leave their children in the care of a tiger.
The Irulas in the eastern slopes are legendarily associated with the Ranagsamy (also spelt as Rangaswami) cult, a virile religious and cultural event centered on the northern slopes of the hills, used to be expert honey-collectors and hunters.
Irulas cultivate small patches close by their village raising Ragi, Samai, (all cereals), plantains, oranges, jacks, pumpkins, etc. They rarely trade on the plateau, but go down to towns in the plains with their produce like fruits, honey bee-wax market gum, dyes, etc. They also hunt and snare wild animals.
They have also been the traditionally hired herdsmen for Badagas pasturages in Moyar basin. Put together they number around 9,000 people.