Indigenous to Vietnam, Cao Dai, is in fact a fusion of the teachings from Taoism, Buddhism and Confucianism, with elements of Christianity and Islam. Founded in the 1920’s, Cai Daism was seen as the answer to the ideal religion and they also worship western icons with the like of Victor Hugo, William Shakespeare and even Joan of Arc. The religion has about three million followers, all in Southern Vietnam and there are several Cao Dai temples in the Mekong Delta too but none as grand as this.
Cao Dai Temple
(Built between 1933 and 1955) The structure of the nine-story Cao Dai Temple is part pagoda, part cathedral, part mosque – representing the ideology behind the religion. The exterior – fluorescent shades of pinks and yellows, rococo walls and mosaic-mirrored tiles that glint in the sun seems to find their delicate balance in the chaos. To it top off, the exterior that is already a feast for the eyes, are further ‘accessorized’ with multi-colored dragons of all shapes and sizes. Above the main entrance is the all-seeing Holy Eye, the symbol of the Cao Dai sect. The interior, needless to say, is just as engaging as statues of Jesus Christ, Buddha and the Hindu god, Brahma, stand side by side.
Inside Cao Dai Temple
The three principal colors of Cao Dai are yellow (for Buddhism), blue (for Taoism), and red (for Christianity), and these appear in worshippers’ robes as well as the temple. The most important symbol is the Divine Eye, representing God, which also appears in followers’ homes. It is a left eye, because God is Yang, and Yang is the left side. It has a ying-yang symbol in the pupil.
Within the temple, males must enter on the right and females to the left and shoes have to be removed before entering the massive main hall. Once you step into the temple, you seem to be removed from the hassle and bustle of the outside world and placed into a world of calmness, peace and light.
Prayer Session inside Cao Dai Temple
Services are held four times a day and visitors are welcomed to watch from the balcony above which runs the entire length of the cathedral. Rows and rows of gracefully attired devotees dressed in white stroll into the hall systematically, accompanied by the sounds of the gong. As if on cue, once inside the hall, the devotees kneel down together before the altar signaling the start of the prayers. The priests are easily identified by their white pointy hats decorated with the holy eye and are dressed in either red, blue or yellow flowing robes. The gongs are now joined in by the string instruments and harmonious chanting of the devotees. Photography is allowed here and is an excellent opportunity not to be missed as you will never find another moment like this anywhere else.
Cao Dai Temple Entrance
The Cao Dai Temple is located just outside Tay Ninh, 60 miles northwest of Ho Chi Minh City. The easiest and most popular way to visit the Cao Dai Temple is on an organized tour from Ho Chi Minh city.
Most people visit the Cao Dai Temple together with the Cu Chi Tunnels.The bus ride takes about two hours.