The Kurumbas of the Nilgiri Hills are a tribe of indigenous people. They are also known as Kuruba, Kuremna, and Kuruman and are part of the four native tribes that originally inhabited the Nilgiris. The Kurumbas are believed to be descendents of the Pallavas, who once ruled the region of south India in the 7th century CE. The Pallavas lost their reign to the Chola king Aditya Karikalan in the 9th century CE, after which they were driven to the Nilgiris, where they continue to live today.
The word “kurumba” can be traced back to mean “one who tends to sheep,” although the traditional occupation of the tribe was collecting fruits, vegetables, timber, beeswax, resin, bark, vines, roots, and most importantly, honey. However, they also have other practices, such as shifting cultivation and the hunting of small birds and animals. The Kurumbas are mainly known for their elaborate knowledge of herbal medicine.
The tribe is divided into five groups: the Jen (honey), the Mullu (thorn), the Urali (village), the Betta (hill), and the Alu, or Palu (milk), who densely populated the tribe. Traditionally, the Kurumbas are the sorcerers and priests, not only for their tribe but also for the other tribes inhabiting these mountains. They were often punished for the illnesses and deaths that occurred in other tribes, who believed it was the curse of the Kurumbas. It is also said that they derive their name from the Tamil word “kurumbu,” which means “mischief.” Their infamy survives today, though the closest they have come to sorcery is their detailed knowledge of medicinal plants.