The Irula tribe of the Nilgiris lives in the dark jungles of the lower elevation of the mountains. This might be one of the reasons that this tribe is called as Irula ‘one who come from the darkness’. Another reason is that these people are dark-skinned, so the neighbors may have addressed them thus based on their colour (Irula – in tamil black or dark). Thurston (1975:II:373) states in his book that, “the name Irula, in fact, means darkness or blackness, whether in reference to the dark jungles in which the Irulas, who have not become domesticated by working as contractors or coolies on planter’s estates dwell, or to the darkness of their skin. Though the typical Irula is dark-skinned and platyrhine, I have noted some whom, as the result of contact metamorphosis, possessed skins of markedly paler hue, and leporine noses.” This was observed by him nearly hundred years ago but now, due to their migration to several places in the district and some other factors, has changed their anthropomorphic form.
Some scholars believe that these people may belong to the race of Negroid or Australian. But the language they speak is purely Dravidian – related; other characteristics also strengthen the notion that Irula is a Dravidian tribe.