Dai is a 'home-grown' religion based in the South of Vietnam.
Its centre of operations is the Cao Dai Holy See, in Tay
Ninh, about 100km from Ho Chi Minh City. It is a large complex
containing a school, an agricultural co-operative, a hospital
and other functional buildings, all dominated by a large
and highly ornate temple.
The founder of Caodaism
The sect was founded by Ngo Van Chieu, a minor civil servant
from Phu Quoc Island, who experienced a series of visions
revealing the ‘Supreme Being’s’ wishes, the centrepiece
of which was the creation of an all-embracing religion incorporating
elements of Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism, Christianity
The Structure of Cao
The structure was based upon that of the Catholic Church,
with Ngo Van Chieu as the first Cao Dai Pope, and the rituals
upon those of Buddhism and Taoism.
Cao Dai also has an interesting range of
‘saints’, including Victor Hugo, William Shakespeare, Louis
Pasteur, Napoleon Bonaparte, Joan of Arc, Winston Churchill,
Lenin, and Chun Yat Sen, the pioneer of the Chinese Revolution,
together with several Vietnamese figures such as Tran Hung
Dao and Le Loi.
The Supreme Being of Cao Dai has made three manifestations
in human form. The first was in ancient times when it appeared
in the person of various figures from the ancient texts
of Christianity, Buddhism and Taoism. On the second occasion,
it manifested itself as Jesus Christ, Mohammed, Confucius
and other divine figures. The most recent manifestation
involved communication with Ngo Van Chieu as the divine
light, symbolised as the all-seeing eye.
The development of
Caodaism grew rapidly, and was officially recognised by
the French in 1926. It continued to grow in numbers and
influence, and by the fifties, the Holy See had become semi-autonomous,
with hundreds of temples throughout the south of Vietnam.
Its large paramilitary force and political influence alarmed
both the French and the Viet Cong.
Upon gaining power, the President of the
Saigon regime, the pro-Catholic Ngo Dinh Diem, moved swiftly
to disband the Cao Dai army and exile its leaders. When
the communists took over in 1975, they closed the temples,
confiscated the land and sent the priests for ‘re-education’.
However, the religion survived and the temples
were returned by the government in the late eighties and
allowed to re-open. Since then, the numbers of Cao Dai followers
have grown, and its temples are functioning more or less
freely, but under tight government control.
Cao Dai temples are common all over the south, but particularly
in the Mekong Delta. For visitors, the place to visit is
the main temple at the Holy See. Its architecture is as
motley as its credo and liturgy, a riot of colour and symbols.
The all-seeing eye is the centrepiece of each of the stained
glass windows, and, behind the altar and mounted on a huge
replica of the earth, dominates the interior.
The daily midday ceremony of worship is a combination of
Christian and Buddhist ritual, lasting about half an hour.
During services, the priests, acolytes and worshippers form
up in rows in one of three branches distinguished by the
colour of the robes, yellow for Buddhists, blue for Taoists
and red for the Confucian branch. Other devotees wear white.
The rites are complex, but very interesting, and the building
is an attraction in its own right. However, to avoid falling
foul of the authorities Cao Dai followers are not forthcoming
about their remarkable faith, and no explanatory material