Friday, 9 December 2011

Vietnam, Cao Dai Temple

30 Nov 2011

We followed a full day tour with Tuan Travel to the Cao Dai Temple and Cu Chi Tunnel. The tour guide was a chatty and good looking guy.
The bus picked us up from our hotel that morning and we assembled with other tourists, who were also following the same tour.
Our first destination is Cao Dai Temple, which is located in Tay Ninh province.

The journey was quite far; it took about 2 hrs. In between, we made a stop at the ceramic factory for toilet break.

These were some of the art works sold at the Ceramic factory. It's hard to believe that these masterpieces were created by handicapped workers, who were disfigured by Agent Orange, a biological warfare used in Vietnam War. 

I was amazed by the woman artist, who used egg shells for her paintings. She is really talented. I admire these workers for their tenacity and hard work.

We set off to Cao Dai Temple...

...and reached the temple around 12 noon, which was just in time for the prayer service.
This place is massive, surrounded by many gates and large courtyards that stretched beyond the Temple.

Cao Dai literally means high tower or the state of being supreme above the rest. Caodaism was founded in the 1920s in Vietnam. Today, there are around 2 to 6 million followers, making it the 3rd largest religion in the country. At one point, Caodaist religious leaders harbored the idea of instituting Caodaism as the Vietnamese state religion.

A Cao Dai worshipper wearing white robe on his way to the temple. The Caodaists pray 4 times a day - 6 am, noon, 6 pm & midnight.   

Initially, I thought he was a Muslim from his clothes and turban, but I was wrong. We had to take off our footwear to enter the temple. The temple structure look like a church with its 2 towers from the front view, but from the side, the typical curved roofs bear the mark of a Buddhist temple. 

I found it strange because it seems that the architect got mixed up with the designs. Confusing too because this religion seemed to be a fusion of all the major religions in the world.


Walking gingerly into the huge hall, I noticed the huge dragon carvings encircling each pillar. One could see Chinese influences here because according to the Chinese beliefs, dragons are highly regarded as protectors of the house of God.

aidai/caodai4.htmlI also noted that everything was constructed with grandiose in mind; even the carvings and drawings were intricately elaborate. 

Here, praying ceremony was about to start. Worshippers stood in rows and took their cues when the bell rang. We were welcomed to view the ceremony from the gallery as long as we did not do anything to disrupt it.

When the bell rung,the bishops, who wore colored robes, led the ceremony. The different colored robes symbolize their ranks and their spiritual allegiance. According to the tour guide, yellow symbolizes Buddhism, blue - Taoism, and red - Confucianism. 

The normal followers were robed in white. The female worshippers on the left, also followed certain ranks. Those with ranks covered their heads with white scarves.

Seemed like there were more females than males, who attended the prayer ceremony... and they were quite old. Most of the young worshippers must be working. 

The ceremony was accompanied by music and a choir.


Young women participated in the ceremony by chanting and young men played the musical instruments. Near the hall, there was a plaque, which stated 3 people, who were venerated as saints - Sun Yat Sen (Chinese revolutionary leader), Victor Hugo (French poet) and Nguyen Binh Khiem (Vietnamese poet). I am not sure why these 3 people were the chosen ones. 

I wanted to know who or what were the Cao Dai worshippers praying to, and then I saw it.

Cao Dai worshippers pray to the Divine Left Eye at the altar, whom/which they consider their God. According to the Caodaist, that Eye had a vision of the All-Seeing eyes and it was said that all religions will one day eventually return to the Left Eye, and each one of them will acknowledge the Eye as the only one true god.

Further reading:

Continue the next post with my visit to Cu Chi Tunnel.

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