There are about 36 types of tribal people who live in Tamil Nadu. The census of 2011 reveals that their total population is 7.21 per cent. Amongst them, the six communities of Thoda, Koda, Kurumbar, Irular, Paniyan and Kattu Nayakkan are slowly disappearing. According to the government, they are on the list of endangered tribes.
Among these six tribes, the Irulars are the most important tribes in South India spread over Tamil Nadu. It is believed that this name is derived from the word “darkness”. It is believed that they got this name because they lived in dense dark forests. And they have many names like Kavalkaran, Kattukaran, and Pambukaran.
Anthropological studies suggest that these Irular people belong to the Necrito race, the primitive race of mankind. The ancestors of the Irulars are the primitive black race that entered India from Africa. Not only the Kuravar tribes, but Irulars also lived in Kurinji land, the first of the five lands. Anthropological studies say that they are original Tamil inhabitants. They have left the mountains and migrated to the forests and plains. Anthropological studies also suggest that their hereditary primitive people still live in the forests of the Andaman Islands.
Their habitat is forested and hilly land. Apart from that, they also live in the plains, so the Iluras live in all three lands the forest, mountains and plains. The hill tribals live in the Nilgiri region of Tamil Nadu. Plains Irulars live in northern Tamil Nadu. Today in Tamil Nadu they live in Tanjore, Coimbatore, Nilgiris, Villupuram, Chennai, Kanchipuram, Thiruvallur, Thiruvannamalai, Cuddalore. They also live in the Western Ghats and Eastern Ghats. There are massive differences socio-culturally between the hill Irulars and the plains Irulars.
Language of Irulars
The Irulas are spread all over South India. The language they speak is called Irula Language. This language has no letter format only spoken language remains. This language is also known as Eravallam, Eruka, Irava, Irulikka, and Korava. In this, the language spoken by the hills Irulars is different and that of the plains Irulars is different. Some researchers claim that this language is a separate language of the Dravidian language family. Some refer to it as a branch language of Tamil. According to UNESCO in its report, this language is slowly going towards extinction.
It is enough to understand the culture of the Irulars to show how false common sense is that tribals are uncivilized people. Although they were pushed to a very backward position in the social hierarchy, their culture was very special. And the culture of the Irular is very unique compared to all other tribes. Language, family, marriage, music, dance, food, worship, ritual, religious belief, lifestyle, etc. are all unique to them.
But in today's political and economic situation, their lives are being exploited very badly.
One of the most important aspects of their culture is herbal medicine. They used medicinal herbs found in forests and mountains to prepare medicine for many incurable diseases and preserved their wisdom from generation to generation. Especially if they are bitten by poisonous animals like snakes, they are familiar with various herbal medicines to overcome the poison.
Their clan deity is Kanniyamman. It is customary to ask Kanniyamman for a sign before doing any work, and they do everything only on the orders of the family deity. It is customary to worship many deities such as the deity who gave the title, the guardian deity, the Kashta deity, and Murugan. fortune telling is one of their characteristics. Some of the hill Irulars are said to worship Vishnu under the name Rangasami and they also worship Mariamman.
They are very devoted to nature. Likewise, those who believe in worshipping dead ancestors. They call Monday the “Day of Fire”. They also believe that the snake will not come out of the shell on Wednesday. Also, they have Mariamman worship and Natukal (hero stone) worship. Researchers believe that the worship of Natukal was spread to others from them.
Following this, we will see in the next article, from the festival of the Maasi (Tamil month) month of Irular to the traditional industry.
This article is created as a part of the Adivasi Awaaz project, with the support of Misereor and Prayog Samaj Sevi Sanstha.