Cao Dai Temple in Tay Ninh is located in Hoa Thanh town, Hoa Thanh district, Tay Ninh province. It is about 4km to the southeast of Tay Ninh center. The construction commenced in 1931 and finished in 1947. This is the central temple of Caodaism and the biggest Cao Dai temple in Viet Nam. It is one of the biggest and unique religious constructions in the world. It shows philosophies of both East and West.
I. History Of Cao Dai temple in Tay Ninh
Caodaism is officially opened on 15th of October Binh Dan (19th of November 1926) at Go Ken pagoda in Hiep Tan village, Hoa Thanh district, Tay Ninh province. The opening ceremony lasted three months with the entering of many followers.
Caodaism books say that God taught followers Caodaism reason and told them to open Caodaism through the “co but” way before. (“Co but” is a way of connecting the human with gods by a pen.).
In order to spread activities, God told Caodaists to buy a large piece of land to build a big temple. In late February 1927, Caodaists bought a piece of land having an area of 100 hectares.
The first praying house was made of thatch and mud so that Caodaists had a temporary place for praying and working.
On the sixteenth of March, 1927 it was moved to the present position. God told Caodaists to build a grand temple.
In November 1931, Monk Thai Tho Thanh (Nguyen Ngoc Tho) organized the starting ceremony. The building did not develop a lot because of financial difficulty. Then the work had to stop temporarily.
In 1933, Giao Tong Authority Thuong Trung Nhut continued building the Cao Dai temple (Giao Tong is the highest position in Caodaism). However, Because of financial shortage, the work could not also continue. Then he passed away.
On 14th of February 1936, Ho Phap Pham Cong Tac (Ho Phap is the highest leader of the law of Caodaism ) continued leading to build the temple. The building was carried out for four years regularly and finished basically, only decorating left.
However, on the 20th of June 1941, the French government worried of Caodaism‘s activities, so it captured Ho Phap Pham Cong Tac and some other leaders, banishing to Madagascar. French army occupied the temple to use for parting cars and resting.
Until the 30th of August 1946, the French government let Ho Phap Pham Cong Tac come back to Cao Dai temple in Tay Ninh. After coming back he continued building. On the 24th of January 1947, the temple finished. On 27th Ho Phap Phạm Cong Tac carried out incantation ceremony to the temple. Due to the war situation, It wasn’t until the 1st of February 1955 that the inaugurating ceremony of the temple and agencies were organized.
II. The Campus of Cao Dai temple in Tay Ninh
1. The main gate
The campus of Cao Dai temple in Tay Ninh has area is 1 km2 and surrounded by a concrete fence. It has 1 main gate and 11 auxiliaries.
The face side of the main gate is to the west of the temple. It is about 500m from the main gate to the temple.
The topping of the main gate there are two dragon statues. Between them is the logo of Caodaism put on the lotus, including Kinh Xuan Thu – Confucianism’s symbol, Cay Phat Tran – Faoism’s symbol and Binh Bat Du – Buddhism’s symbol.
Under the dragon statues, there is a writing line – the official name of Caodaism: “DAI DAO TAM KY PHO DO” which means a big religion opens the third time to save all living beings. On two pillars there are two writing lines showing the thought of peace, democracy and freedom.
The main gate of Cao Dai temple in Tay Ninh
The logo of Caodaism
2. The area in front of the temple
From the main gate to the temple there are the following sights:
Behind the main gate, there are 3 precious towers of 3 top leaders of the justice body of Caodaism: Ho Phap Pham Cong Tac, Thuong Pham Cao Huynh Cu, Thuong Sanh Cao Hoai Sang. The towers carved many clever patterns and traceries. The face sides of the towers are opposite the temple. (Precious towers are where high-class monks are buried).
The precious tower of Ho Phap Pham Pham Cong Tac
In front of the precious towers, there is the statue of Prince Siddhārtha Gautama sitting on the horseback. That sight shows that Caodaism is made on a love base.
Siddhārtha statue sitting on the back of the horse
In front of the statue of Siddhārtha, There are two grandstands where followers and visitors see festivals of Caodaism.
Between two grandstands, There is the platform called Cuu Trung Thien which is used for putting bone boxes of high-class dignitaries in order to carry out funerals.
In front of Cuu Trung Thien, there is the big old styrax tree given by Monk Thera Narada from Srilanka in 1953. The tree was got out from the tree in Mahabodhi pagoda, India.
The big old styrax given by Monk Thera Narada from Srilanka in 1953
Some meters far from the tree, there is an 18-meter-high “Phuong” pillar. On the top of the Pillar, there is a “phuong” leaf which is 12 meters long and 1.2 meters wide. The topping is yellow with the picture of “Two dragons scrabbling for the sun.” The trunk has three lines with three colors: yellow, blue and red. In the blue line, there are God Eye picture, logo Caodaism and nine words: 大 道 三 期 溥 渡. Two sides of the trunk have 12 cloth fins. Below the trunk has 9 cloth fins. (“Phuong” is the same as flag, but it contains a spirit meaning. It brings souls of human to the paradise.)
The “Phuong” leaf of Caodaism hung on the top of the 18-meter-high pillar
3. The Cao Dai Temple in Tay Ninh
The full view of Cao Dai temple in Tay Ninh
Generally, Cao Dai temple in Tay Ninh is similar with a Cathedral of Christianism. The face side is to the east. It is 97.5 meters long, 22 meters wide with 156 pillars. The pillars are made of bambooed concrete. Caodaists say that the size and design of the temple are given through “co but” way by Lǐ Bái (李白) who is a famous Chinese poet living in Duong dynasty.
The temple has three parts: Hiep Thien Dai, Cuu Trung Dai and Bat Quai Dai. When you enter the temple, you are in Hiep Thien Dai with 2 high towers as you can see in the picture above. Passing this area, you will come to the area of Cuu Trung Dai with the third tower. The last will be Bat Quai Dai’s area with the fourth tower.
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3.1. Hiep Thien Dai
Looking from outside, Two entrance’s sides of the temple are two high towers. The right tower is called Bach Ngoc Chung Dai and the left one is called Loi Am Co Dai. Both of them are 27 meters high and have six floors. Each floor has short roof. The face side of the second floor of Bach Ngoc Chung Dai has the statue of Quyen Giao Tong Thuong Trung Nhut who was the highest leader at the first time of Caodaism. Inside the second floor, there is a big bell.
About Loi Am Co Dai: The face side of the second floor has the statue Nu Dau Su Lam Huong Thanh who was female’s leader at the first time of Caodaism. Inside the second floor, there is a big drum.
To go into the temple, visitors have to pass 5 terraces symbolizing for five evolving levels of human including Human, God, Saint, Fairy, Buddha.
Looking to the right visitors see the statue of Honest God. Looking to the left visitors see the statue of Fierce God. Two gods are 2 characters in a Chinese tale which shows honest people can improve themselves to go to the paradise; the fierce people can, too.
Honest God with gentle face
Fierce God with cruel face
In front of the main entrance is Tinh Tam Dien, where people keep spirit calm before going into Cuu Trung Dai to contact with Gods.
At the end of Tinh Tam Dien, there is the picture “Three Saints sign agreement”. They are Chinese leader Sun Yat Sen, poet Victor Hugo and Vietnamese Professor Nguyen Binh Khiem. In the picture Sun Yat Sen is holding an ink, Victor Hugo is writing words in French, Nguyen Binh Khiem is writing words in Chinese. The worlds mean equality and humanity. The saints represent humans to sign agreement with God to carry out equal and humane opinion.
The picture “Three Saints sign agreement”
The backside of the picture “Three Saints sign agreement”, there are three the highest-class dignitary statues of Hiep Thien Dai. Those dignitaries are Ho phap Pham Cong Tac, Thuong Pham Cao Huynh Cu, Thuong sanh Cao Hoai Sang. Each statue stand on a lotus put on a platform. Three platforms are winded by a snake having 7 heads. On 7 heads, there 7 words in Chinese. Those are gladness, angry, love, hate, sadness, happiness, worry. That picture reminds people to control the feelings of themselves.
Statues of Ho Phap Pham Cong Tac, Thuong Pham Cao Huynh Cu and Thuong Sanh Cao Hoai Sang
Above Tinh Tam Dai is Lao Dong Dai. The face side of Lao Dong Dai is a semi-circle balcony where visitors can see 8 pictures symbolize for 8 jobs in society and a flag of Caodaism. The flag has three sections. The topping is yellow with the words: 大 道 三 期 溥 渡. The center is blue with the logo of Caodaism. The low is red without words. The flag shows the guiding principle of Caodaism. That is a combination many religions, carrying out merciful and humane doctrine. Inside Lao Dong Dai has the alter worshiping 15 Hiep Thien Dai dignitaries.
The flag of Caodaism
Above Lao Dong Dai is Thong Thien Dai. Its face side has a God Eye symbol. Thong Thien Dai is the place where dignitaries contact with Gods by “Co but” way.
On the top of Thong Thien Dai, There is the statue of Di Lac sitting on a tiger. (Caodaist says that Di Lac is a Buddha descending on earth in the future. The tiger is the name of the year when Caodaism was opened.
Hiep Thien Dai is also the name of the justice body of Caodaism. It has a duty to keep hold of the law of Caodaism.
3.2. Cuu Trung Dai
Bordering with Hiep Thien Dai is Cuu Trung Dai. All area has 18 pillars provided into 2 sides, decorated with dragons carved skillfully. The pillars divide the area into 9 compartments. They symbolize for nine gods’ grades. Cuu Trung Dai dignitaries and Caodaists pray here.
Cuu Trung Dai with 18 pillars divided into 2 sides
Caodaists praying in Cuu Trung Dai
The pillar carved dragon picture in Cuu Trung Dai
The three ending compartments are put 9 armchairs divided into 3 levels used for the highest Cuu Trung Dai dignitaries.
– The highest is for Giao Tong carved dragon picture.
– The next three are for 3 Chuong Phap carved phoenix picture.
– The lower three are 3 Dau Su carved horse dragon.
Cuu Trung Dai has a high tower above called Nghinh Phong Dai. Nghinh Phong Dai is a cylinder-shaped tower with a height of 17m. On the top of Nghinh Phong Dai there is a statue of the horse dragon running to the West, turning the head to the East. This means that Caodaism starts from the East, spreads to the west, then returns the East.
Cuu Trung Dai having the high tower above called Nghinh Phong Dai
Cuu Trung Dai is also the name of the executive body of Caodaism. It navigates everybody of Caodaism from center to local.
3.3. Bat Quai Dai
Next to Cuu Trung Dai is Bat Quai Dai. This area has eight pillars arranged into the eight-side figure. In the center, there is a ball of the universe with a diameter of 3.3m symbolizing for the universe. God Eye picture is lying above The Great Bear. Around is 3,072-star pictures symbolizing for 72 globes and 3,000 worlds.
Below is the altar worshiping gods representing for some religions, including Laotsu (老子), Shakyamuni, Confucius ( 孔子), Avalokitesvara (觀世音), Lǐ Bái (李白), Quanvu (關羽), Jesus Christ, Khuongtunha (姜仔呀).
The above worshiping way shows the philosophy of Caodaism. God Eye symbolizes God (the creator). God does not have a shape like a human, but he is a grand light. He creates everything in the universe, including religions. This time he collects them into one. Everyone should recognize brothers or sisters and love one another.
Bat Quai Dai is also the name of the legislating body of Caodaism. Most of regulations of Caodaism are made by this body through “co but” way.
Bat Quai Dai
Bat Quai Dai has a high tower above. On the top, there are 3 statues of 3 gods of Hinduism. Those are Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva.
Looking from outside, the surrounding wall has 23 windows. Each of them is decorated lotus pictures bearing a frame with God Eye picture. Adding with the God Eye picture on the face side of Thong Thien Dai, all the temple has 24 God Eye pictures.
The window decorated lotus pictures bearing frame with God Eye symbol
Besides the main entrance going into Tinh Tam Dien, there are all 6 auxiliary entrances in the surrounding wall. Each auxiliary entrance has a pair of Kim Mao Hau statues.
Each auxiliary entrance has a pair of Kim Mao Hau statues
The back of Cao Dai temple in Tay Ninh
4. The area behind the temple
Behind the temple, there is the precious tower of Quyen Giao Tong Thuong Trung Nhut.
Behind it, on the right, there is a building called Dong Lang where male officers work. Next to is 3 precious towers of 3 male Dau Su. On the left, there is a building called Dong Lang where female officers work. Next to is precious of 3 female Dau Su.
The campus of Cao Dai Temple in Tay Ninh has many other temples and officers.
III. MEANING OF CULTURES AND TOURISM
Being the biggest temple of Caodaism, every year the Tay Ninh Cao Dai temple attracts millions of tourists and followers. Its architecture shows a combination of Eastern and Western cultures. Everything on the campus is arranged in science and harmony with nature. This helps someone find peace in spirit. There are 2 important ceremonies a year: “Via Duc Chi Ton” on 9th January, “Hoi Yen Dieu Tri Cung” on 15th August of lunar calendar (Duc Chi Ton is God and Dieu Tri is the spiritual mother”.
It’s about 100 km from Ho Chi Minh to Cao Dai temple in Tay Ninh, 55 Km from Cu Chi tunnels. Because of the convenient road, visitors usually carried out jointly with the excursion to the Cu Chi tunnels. The typical tour starts from Ho Chi Minh about 7:00 in the morning, arrive in the temple around 10:00. After finishing the prayer service around 12:45, visitors go back to Ho Chi Minh City. On the way going back to Ho Chi Minh, Visitors can stop at Cu Chi tunnels, ending the tour in Ho Chi Minh City about 20:00.