Identification. Most Irula inhabit the state of Tamil Nadu, India. Although they form a Scheduled Tribe, the Irula are in many ways similar to their nearby Hindu caste neighbors. They have pantheistic and animistic tendencies of their own, but prolonged contact with more orthodox Hinduism has also had its indelible impact.
Location. Most Irula live in the northern districts of Tamil Nadu, where the majority are found in the Changalpattu, North Arcot, and South Arcot districts not far from Madras City. While the Irula in general merit additional fieldwork, it is only the Nilgiri Irula who are considered here. They live in the Nilgiri District in extreme northwestern Tamil Nadu, in the adjacent Coimbatore District, and in parts of Karnataka and Kerala states. Tamil Nadu is the southeasternmost state of India. It is thus a region within the tropics that is subject to westerly monsoonal rainfall, lasting mainly from mid-June through August, and to reverse monsoonal rainfall, which is heaviest from September into November. Some Nilgiri Irula occupy higher and cooler slopes, and others occupy plains that by April are hot and dry.
Demography. After the Malayali (who actually are not the speakers of Malayalam in Kerala) numbered at 159,426, the Irula at 89,025 formed the second-largest Tamil Nadu tribe in the 1971 census of India. There were over 12,000 Irula in the Coimbatore District. As the Nilgiri District had some 5,200 Irula in 1971, only about 6 percent lived there. By 1971, there were altogether 106,939 Irula in south India.
Linguistic Affiliation. Depending on the criteria used, the Irula have been identified as speakers of a distinct Irula language or speakers of a dialect of Tamil. In addition, Malayalam has influenced Irula speech in Kerala, and Kannada has influenced the speech of a subgroup of Irula, called Kasaba, in Karnataka.