The temples of Caodaiism
This morning I roused my dirty, exhausted traveller body early to get on a bus to the Village of Tay Ninh, in Southern Vietnam, to see the bizarre temples of the Cao Dai religion…
Cao Dai means the ‘Kingdom of Heaven,’ and is very young religion, as religions go, having existed for less than 100 years, founded in Tay Ninh in 1926. The basis of the religion is that the followers pray to god 4 times a day, 6am, 12pm, 6pm, 12am, with song and with a lot of bowing and hand motions – what they are praying for is the release from the birth – death cycle… so that one day they will be free. They believe that there are 72 planets that harbour life with 1 being heaven and 72 being hell, earth is considered as number 68 – and it is believed that the person in the lowest position on planet 67 wouldn’t swap places with a king on our planet – because we are so close to hell.
It’s a very interesting religion (don’t worry, I’m not on the road to conversion just yet) which is derived from all of the main religions that exist in the world today, and it has elements of each.
The main temple in Tay Ninh is crazy, it’s so colourful and has large dragons wrapped around the pillars inside. Most of the followers wear white robes, but there are also followers in Red, Blue and Yellow – who are more swayed to one other religion than the others that Cao Daoism follows.
The service that I watched would have held over 200 followers (there are around 3 million living in South Vietnam) and was held in the main temple at 12pm. There was a lot of bells and singing and bowing at each bell, touching the hands to the head to the heart and lastly placing the head on the floor.
It looked like a Mardi gras for the church. So much colour and incense and oddity… One alter held instruments which were played during the service… I walked the tiled floors in silence, feeling the cold decorated service under my toes and keeping to the edges so as not to disturb those in prayer. I looked at the many eyes that were around the room – the primary symbol of Caodaiism, the left eye, inside a triangle – stared down at me from every pillar, post and wall.
We were able to walk around the top floor of the temple and look down at the service taking place below us. Some tourists chatted the whole time, which I thought was very disrespectful – but then tourists usually are, in one way or another… being faced every day with the amount of naive tourists has lessened my like for humans in general.
Barefoot, went to ‘church’ on a sunday, for the first time in… well as long as I can remember.