PETALING JAYA: Persatuan Tarian Singa Tai Yen, also known as Tamilan Lion Dance Team Rawang, has been smashing stereotypes for the past four years.
Led by 38-year-old Achi Babu, this all-Indian lion dance troupe is frequently seen at Indian temple ceremonies, birthday celebrations, and restaurant openings. And, of course, they are high in demand during Chinese New Year.
This year, the 15-member troupe has a packed schedule that sees them performing for 10 days, not only in Selangor but also at Pangkor island, Tanjung Malim, and some parts in Kedah.
“People are surprised when they see us perform. They feel it is different: that instead of Chinese performers, we are all Indians. People have been very supportive,” Babu, as he is fondly called, told FMT Lifestyle proudly.
The team receives up to 200 bookings annually. At the heart of this success is the dedication of its members, from the youngest at age 10 to the oldest at 43.
They train hard for up to three hours at the troupe’s base at Rawang’s Sri Maha Thurkai Amman temple, located in Taman Garing.
For Perak-born Babu, it is all about continuing the legacy of his late sifu, Ong Yew Kee, who founded Persatuan Tarian Singa Tai Yen nearly 40 years ago.
Despite being very strict with his training, Ong was “a good father and teacher”, he noted.
Persatuan Tarian Singa Tai Yen was disbanded in 2010 after Ong’s passing. Upon the request of his sifu’s daughter, Babu restarted the troupe in 2020 and rebranded it.
But it wasn’t without its challenges. “People have bullied me and said ‘you won’t be able to do this’. My own family didn’t understand me. No one believed that I would succeed,” Babu said.
“The only ones who supported me were my team members.”
His dedication to the troupe even cost him his marriage, a painful event that left him lost and hopeless. Still, having hit rock bottom, he said he remembers hearing a voice telling him: “You can definitely do this. You will succeed.”
This spurred him into action. His goal: to take his brotherhood of lions to greater heights. Babu slowly rebuilt the troupe, initially purchasing second-hand lion heads and drums before buying good-quality ones with the team’s earnings.
Weekly three-hour training sessions on Sundays – a blend of drumming and lion dancing – are mandatory for the team, emphasising the complex skills required for this ancient art form.
And notably, each lion head in their performances is dedicated to a specific Hindu deity, underscoring the troupe’s fusion of cultural elements. In fact, certain lion heads are exclusively reserved for vegetarian events.
Asked what it takes to learn, Babu said: “People think lion dance is hard. But the moment you put on the lion head and take your first steps, you will be filled with a fierce force. We perform through the lions within us.”
Moving forward, Babu’s vision for his troupe goes beyond mere performances. He dreams of securing a place in the Malaysia Book of Records, and also aspires for his team to participate in the Genting World Lion Dance Championship.
“Whether we win or not, I want us to enter it and perform. We are still working hard to reach that stage.”
At the end of the day, Babu knows he and his fellow performers will continue facing challenges, but he remains resolute.
“Lion dance is something I have learnt since I was a kid. I can’t let go of it; it’s in my blood. Without this, I am nothing.
“I know Ong has blessed me from heaven, that I’m the only man who can bring this team forward. He has brought me this far,” he said, confident that his sifu will continue to do so.
Follow Tamilan Lion Dance Team Rawang on TikTok.