All About Vietnam's Cao Dai Holy See

The temple at Ty Ninh is considered the worldwide headquarters of the religion
The Cao Dai Holy See is located 4 km east of Tay Ninh in the village of Long Hoa   Photo Credit Pixabay
The Cao Dai Holy See is located 4 km east of Tay Ninh in the village of Long Hoa Photo Credit Pixabay

The sweet fragrance of incense has set the scene. The ceremony has started. Pilgrims dressed in long white robes walk along the nave. Some of them have white headgears. They sit cross-legged on the floor, forming neat rows and columns. Near the altar, a few in shiny blue, yellow and red robes form an array. On the altar stands a huge globe. Painted on it is a human eye, complete with a curvy eyebrow&mdashit is the divine eye. This is the Cao Dai Holy See, a temple in the city of T&acircy Ninh, 83 kilometres northwest of Ho Chi Minh City (formerly known as Saigon) in Vietnam.

Cao Dai is a syncretic religion founded by Ngo Van Chieu in 1926 in the city of T&acircy Ninh when the country was under French rule. The pictorial eye is the symbol of the religion. It signifies that the divine sees it all. On the windows of the temple, the eyes appear encased inside triangles&mdashthe triangle of justice. 

In Vietnam alone the number of Cao Dai followers runs around 2-3&nbspmillion.

Cao Dai has borrowed tenets from a range of world religions including Hinduism, Christianity and Islam however, it has been most influenced by Buddhism, Confucianism and Taoism. The sub-branch of the priests attending the ceremony can be identified by the colour of their robes &mdash red for Confucianism, blue for Taoism
and yellow for Buddhism.

During the golden days of Cao Dai, it enjoyed both religious and political clout. The religious group had control over acres of land and a private army. All this came to an end when communist-leaning North Vietnam successfully captured South Vietnam in 1975. Cao Dai leaders had political fallouts with the ruling communists and hence they were subjugated. It was only in 1997 that Cao Dai were allowed to be back in operations though with curtailed dominance.

Cao Dai followers who left Vietnam, landed as refugees in other countries. As a result, countries like the USA, Australia and Cambodia have Cao Dai followers and temples today.

The temple at T&acircy Ninh is considered the worldwide headquarters of the religion. The temple holds four masses throughout the day morning(6AM), noon(12PM), evening(6PM), and midnight(12AM). Most tourists attend the noon mass. Perched on a viewing gallery, the visitors get to witness the spectacle unfolding below.

The ceremony is made melodious by musicians and choir singers. An orchestra plays folk music on traditional string instruments like dan nguyet and dan day. Guided by the reverberating beats, the pilgrims seated on the floor kneel together.

The architecture of the temple is crafted like that of a church but with bright hues of yellow, red and blue. Intricately designed columns with sculpted dragons and snakes demarcate the boundaries between the nave and the aisles. The ceiling is painted blue with tufts of white, portraying clouds in a sunny azure sky.
Glittery silver dots represent stars.

The pagoda styled slanting roof of the temple has 3 tiers. It is flanked by four towers, two of them with louvred windows, balconies, and a porch running along the perimeter of the temple. Outside the temple there is a huge open space where outdoor ceremonies are held occasionally.

How to Reach

The most efficient way is to book a full-day or half-day guided tour to the Cao Dai Temple from Ho Chi Minh City. If you want to use public transport then take a bus from Saigon to the town of T&acircy Ninh and from T&acircy Ninh take a taxi to the temple.

Dress etiquette&nbspIt is advisable to dress modestly.

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