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
founder of Caodaism
The sect was founded by Ngo Van Chieu, a minor civil
servant from Pho 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 and
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, first in ancient times in the person
of various figures from the ancient texts of Christianity,
Buddhism and Taoism, secondly as Jesus Christ, Mohammed,
Confucius and other divine figures and, most recently,
in his communication with Ngo Van Chieu as the divine
light, symbolised as the all-seeing eye.
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
Upon gaining power,
the President of the Saigon regime, the pro-Catholic
Ngo Dien 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.
Caodai 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
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
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