This language came into existence when people from Arab countries visited our side of the land which was then ruled by Pandyas. It paved the way for the mixture of their Arab language with Tamil. The kings let the Arab do their trades freely, gave them lands to settle, and even made them part of a council. Many ports welcomed these traders with open hands, one among them was Kayal also known as Kayalpattinam, in Thoothukudi district, the place where once Arwi flourished.
In those days, the literary pundits living in the Kayalpattinam region had written thousands of books from religion to lifestyle in the Arwi language but later those books were transcribed in the Tamil script so that more people could read them. While this might have brought exposure to the text, it diminished the use of Arwi. Hence today, Arwi (Arabu Tamil) language is on the verge of extinction. To revive the language, a group of youngsters from Kayalpattinam has started an initiative. Fathima Nasreen Azeez, who is associated with the initiative, tells us, “When we were young, the older generation in the family/town used to narrate stories from Arwi books and gatherings happened where these books were recited or heard. Arwi language is something very close to our culture. The younger generation doesn’t even know that such a language exists in the pockets of Tamil Nadu. To revive the language and to make young minds know the geographical and cultural significance of Arwi, we decided to start a small campaign. My sister Jariya Azeez and a group of youngsters from the Kayalpattinam region are helping with this.”
As an initiative, the team has launched a t-shirt that has symbols and writings in Arwi. “We are not making any commercial benefits with the t-shirts. We are supporting the language and republishing the old kitabs (books) in their original Arwi script as much as possible. This is our small initiative to represent our forgotten script and its historical relevance to the ancient trade in this region and the cultural ties between South East Asia and Arab world which can be felt in the food, lifestyle and local culture even today,” she adds.
Nasreen points out that when people don’t use it for generations and change to modern ways of communication, scripts of some languages may get extinct. “Rather than letting the language extinct, we wanted to keep this part of history alive as much as we can. It is truly appreciable when we see the modern youths trying to revive something that is old and has been long forgotten. Arwi is a unique language that needs to be revived and put out in the world. The beauty and the authentic sound of it will make anyone fall in love with it,” Nasreen remarks.