TÂY NINH COMMEMORATION OF THE MOTHER GODDESS FESTIVAL 2013
Updated 2013-09-30 00:50:00
By Gregory Fraszczak (Mid-Autumn Festival, Tay Ninh, Sept 19, 2013)
After over two hours spent on the motorbike riding from Ho Chi Minh City, we, me and Alam, arrived in Tây Ninh
. The town greeted us with a light, short rainfall. After a few minutes the colourful towers of the temple appeared and soon we are at the main gate of the Holy See. This was my very first visit to Tay Ninh and my first meeting with Cao Đài followers. The Holy See was already packed with pilgrims walking, sitting or sleeping in any available space, all of whom had come to venerate the Mother Goddess. Smiling faces made the atmosphere joyful.
We soon met Archbishop Ngọc Hồng Thanh, who was also smiling, and who invited us to take lunch with him. Before this we tried on the white robes (Caodai religious uniform). It took some time to find the right size for me, but finally I found a robe that fit.
After lunch we met Archbishop Thái Côn Thanh, who lead us to Cardinal Thượng Tám Thanh, the current Cao Dai religious leader. The Cardinal looked a little bit tired, but we were grateful that he had found a few minutes to meet with us.
The midnight ceremony in the main temple left an unforgettable impression. The abundance of colours seen on the temple building and the colourful robes worn by participants were impressive. A meditative introduction with the musical background and following prayer songs slowed my mind to a more conscious pace.
Tired, but very impressed, we returned to the hotel for a nap.
The morning of the next day, the festive day, we spent at the 'Overseas Missionary' stand, although we also visited other stands. All presented offerings - fruits, cakes, sweets, candles and other objects arranged in the forms of colourful carpets or piled into small mountains, or in the shape of different symbols. These stands aroused a lot of interest among the pilgrims and the place was overcrowded all the time. Possibly a larger place for this exposition should be considered.
In the afternoon I was again taken by surprise. I was told that there would be an 'official' section during the festive celebrations, which include governmental and party officials. I expected a few representatives from the authorities, but suddenly I saw a long cavalcade of cars approaching the Mother Goddess Temple - the group of officials, often accompanied by members of their families, numbered 70 - 80 people!
After the official part of the festival concluded, including the speeches from the Cardinal and the representative from the Ministry of Religion, we were invited to dinner. During my stay in Tây Ninh I enjoyed excellent vegetarian food.
It was getting dark when we and all the other guests arrived to the grandstand to watch the parade. I was not able to ask about the meaning of the performance, too busy was I taking in the colours of the dancers' dresses and admiring their skills.
Leaving through the Holy See we walked slowly at first and then rode the motorbike carefully, trying to break through hundreds of pilgrims, all of whom were filling any free space. Finally, we left behind the smiling faces and colourful lamps illuminating the temples and other buildings. The "ordinariness" of the town life made us realize that we had finally left the sacred space and that the festival was truly over.
Gregory Fraszczak (Mid-Autumn Festival, Tay Ninh, Sept 19, 2013)
Note : Gregory Fraszczak is a Poland native but lives in Scotland. He got his M.A in Religious Studies in 2012 at the University of Aberdeen, Scotland. He desired to continue his advanced studies. He found out about this new religion, CAO DAI, and decided to write his Ph.D thesis on that religion. With the assistance of his Professor and mentor, Dr. Lukas Pokorny, he requested the Cao Dai Overseas Missionary to give a grant to come to Viet Nam to learn the Vietnamese language so that he could read all the books and documentation related to his research. He arrived in Ho Chi Minh City, Viet Nam, on September 1st, 2013 and start taking the Vietnamese courses at the University of Humanity and Social Sciences. This is his first trip to the Cao Dai Holy See in Tay Ninh, about 60 miles east of Ho Chi Minh City.
The Exhibition Booth of the Cao Dai Overseas Missionary
Map of the world showing the locations of Cao Dai followers
Gregory Fraszczak and Jahangiir Alam in front of the exhibition booth
Cardinal THUONG TAM THANH met with Gregory and Alam
Souvenir photos with some Cao Dai adepts
Archbishop Thai Con Thanh and Archbishop Ngoc Hong Thanh met with Gregory and Alam
Alam being interviewed by a local TV station
Gregory and Alam having a sumptuos vegeterian lunch