Caodaism In Vietnam

Sounds around the World Series

Another very interesting and colourful religion with its seat in the south of Vietnam is the Caodaism believe (Cao Đài). Founded in 1926 in Tây Ninh (approx. 60 km north west of Ho Chi Minh City) the relatively young religion was recognised and allowed by the Vietnamese government only in 1997.

A reason for the late approval is probably its members involvement in the Indochina Wars, when they  first fought against the French, then the Regime of Ngo Dinh Diem in the South and finally offered a strong opposition to the communists—all before 1975.

 

What’s Caodaism?! A First Encounter

The first time I saw a Caodaist church I almost mistook it for a Christian one. With their two church towers at the front facade and the long main building flowing from the tower, they tend to look like small Notre-Dames. But unlike Christian churches, these buildings are painted in a shiny, dark yellow colour and offer a collection of charmingly decorated balconies and windows.
What sticks out most though is their striking presence of blue.

 

On the outside, the blue is predominantly used for the Divine Eye and pictures of sky, clouds and the sun.
Where there are two towers, each one exhibits a slightly different appearance:  blue clouds with a sun on one tower and blue clouds with a moon on the other.

 

 

Upon entering the building, a feeling of lightness and openness welcomes any guests who enter the spaces. In their tasteful but expressive colours Caodaist churches feel like an opposite when compared to the rather darker, Chinese Buddhist pagodas from the earlier years of the 19th or 20th century.

Inside each church, the ceiling is painted in the same light blue, radiating a comforting, almost cozy, warm atmosphere. Some small white clouds, faintly reminding of angels, augment the feeling of entering the heavens.

 

Being able to distinguish those churches from other religious groups by now, I had the chance to see several more Caodaist churches in the south of Vietnam.
Of the ones I visited, the one impressing me the most can be found in the region of  Can Gio. The church consists of two separate buildings maybe about 3 metres apart from each other and with slight differences in architecture and painting.

 

 

At noon people started praying and I was lucky to hit the record button just on time. In both buildings they started praying/singing simultaneously, which initially led me to believe that they were praying together (some form of canon or polyphony?). But a few minutes into the prayer it became clear that the disciples in each of the two buildings made their devotions independently from each other.

Sound Examples

“opening”

examples from the right building (blue inside)

examples from the left building (yellow inside)

 

Caodaist Church Under Construction

One afternoon I passed by a Caodaist church which was still under construction. The people working on it assume it will probably be finished in 2015 (this blog was originally from the end of 2011).

I was invited on a tour by the group of friendly construction workers. Shame that having a conversation is often difficult. I only know the most important words (basically to survive) and rural people, in general hardly having any contact with foreigners, tend to speak Vietnamese only.

I managed to get to know the people and their building a little bit better after all—using body language and paper and a pen.

It was an especial honour to meet the incredibly creative woman behind all the decorations. She has shaped all the decorative works in and outside of the building!
What a blessing that I was allowed to take pictures of her (unfinished) work, too.

 

 

Taking a look at the construction side it quickly became clear how different cultures can be. For all the building works in and around the church they use bamboo pipes to support the works themselves. Given that the material for the building itself is rather heavy (concrete and red clay stones!) I was surprised that nobody had been injured so far.

 

 

How about you? Have you been to Vietnam and can share some information about Caodaist churches? Then please send me a message or leave a comment here below!

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