Great Bell of Dhammazedi
|Location||Sunk beneath Yangon River|
297,103 kilograms (655,000 lb)
|Opening date||5 February 1484|
|Dedicated to||Shwedagon Pagoda|
The Great Bell of Dhammazedi (Burmese: ဓမ္မစေတီခေါင်းလောင်းကြီး [dəma̰zèdì kʰáʊɴláʊɴ dʑí]) is a bronze bell, believed to be the largest bell ever cast. It was cast on 5 February 1484 by order of King Dhammazedi of Hanthawaddy Pegu, and was given as a present to the Shwedagon Pagoda of Dagon (today's Yangon, Myanmar).
In 1484, prior to the casting of the bell, King Dhammazedi's astrologer advised him to postpone the date, because it was at the astrologically inauspicious time of the Crocodile constellation, and the resulting bell would not produce any sound. After the bell was completed, it reportedly gave an unpleasant sound.
According to texts of the time, the bell was cast of 180,000 viss (294 t) of metal which included silver and gold, as well as copper and tin. The bell was said to be twelve cubits high and eight cubits wide.
In 1583, Gasparo Balbi, a Venetian gem merchant, visited ancient Dagon and the Shwedagon Pagoda. He wrote in his diary about the King Dhammazedi Bell. His description of the Great Bell said that it had writing engraved from top to bottom around its circumference that he could not decipher at that time:
"I found in a faire hall a very large bell which we measured, and found to be seven paces and three hand breadths and it is full of letters from the top to the bottom but there was no Nation that could understand them."
Theft from Shwedagon Pagoda
European explorers and merchants began to make contacts in Lower Burma in the early 16th century. Filipe de Brito e Nicote, a Portuguese warlord and mercenary known as Nga Zinka to the Burmese, arrived in Lower Burma sometime in the 1590s. At that time, Syriam (now known as Thanlyin) was the most important seaport in the Burmese Kingdom of Taungoo.
In 1599, de Brito led an Arakanese force which sacked Syriam and Pegu (now known as Bago), the capital of Lower Burma. The King of Arakan appointed de Brito as governor of Syriam. By 1600, de Brito had extended his power across the Bago River to Dagon and the surrounding countryside. De Brito declared independence from the Arakanese king in 1603 and established Portuguese rule under Aires de Saldanha, Viceroy of Portuguese India.
In 1608 De Brito and his men removed the Dhammazedi bell from the Shwedagon Pagoda and rolled it down Singuttara Hill to a raft on the Pazundaung Creek. From here, the bell was hauled by elephants to the Bago River. The bell and raft were lashed to de Brito's flagship for the journey across the river to Syriam, to be melted down and made into ships' cannons. The load proved to be too heavy however: at the confluence of the Bago and Yangon Rivers, off what is now known as Monkey Point, the raft broke up and the bell went to the bottom, taking de Brito's ship with it.
Many people have tried to save the bell, thus far without success. Professional deep sea diver, James Blunt, has made 115 dives to find the bell, using sonar images of objects in the area for guidance. Making it even harder to find is the fact that there are also 3 shipwrecks in the area. The water is muddy and visibility is extremely poor under the surface. The Dhammazedi Bell is thought to be buried in 25 feet (7.6 m) of mud. The great Bell rests between the wrecks of two Dutch East Indiaman ships: Komine and Koning David, along with small pieces of De Brito's galleon.
In 2000, the Burmese government asked an English marine scientist named Mike Hatcher and his team to raise the bell; they wanted to see it restored to the Pagoda. Hatcher agreed to undertake the project, which has involvement from Japanese, Australian and American companies. Richard Gere is involved in raising funds.
The project is not without its opponents: Some pro-democracy campaigners say the salvage operation might be misconstrued as an endorsement by the international community of Myanmar's military dictatorship, and should wait until talks with the regime have progressed or until such time as a democratic government is in place.
One of seven salvage projects forecast for Mike Hatcher and his team in 2001, Mike's team was slated to begin the search for the precise location of the Dhammazedi Bell in March that year. After a flurry of excitement stirred up by BBC's announcement of the project, however, it apparently did not get off the ground, perhaps due to complications involved in his discovery in June 2000 of a huge sunken wreck in Indonesian waters, with the largest collection of porcelain ever found.
If the project ever does go forward, divers will use some combination of sub-bottom profilers, personal mounted sonar, night vision devices, and copper sulphate detectors to locate the bell (since the mud around all that bronze would be expected to have a high concentration of copper sulphate). About nine months after the survey they expect to lift the bell from the river. To do this, they will have to build a small version of a North Sea oil platform in the muddy rapids of the confluence of two rivers, and assemble a large crane to lift the bell out of the water. Once it is lifted, they will construct a railway to transport it uphill about half a mile to the Shwedagon Pagoda. This final operation will take about four months.
In July 2010, the Myanmar Times reported an Australian documentary filmmaker and explorer Damien Lay to be another foreigner who had decided to take it up as his new project. Lay and his team, conducted extensive side scan sonar surveys and diving operations, covering approximately four square kilometers of river floor in the area where it was believed the bell may be located. Lay and his team, identified and confirmed the presence of fourteen shipwrecks in the area where the bell is believed to be located. Lay and his team identified two significant targets and acquired sonar imagery of both the bell and the galleon ship. Both targets are visible to sonar and resting on the sea floor. The location of these targets has not been released. Both targets are well outside the area where the bell was previously thought to be. Lay had stated that the location of the bell was not where most people thought, that the myths and legends surrounding the location of the bell was not supported by evidence and that the location of the bell had been significantly overlooked by the misinterpretation of the history. "The location of the bell was quite surprising", Lay said.
Lay had conducted the bell search as part of the Lady Southern Cross Search Expedition, an ongoing operation privately funded operation conducted over the past eight years by Lay. The bell search was conducted as return to gesture to people and Government of Myanmar for their assistance and support in allowing Lay to search for and recover the wreckage of the Lady Southern Cross and remains of Sir Charles Kingsford Smith and John Thompson "Tommy" Pethybridge, who disappeared off the coast of Myanmar on November 8, 1935.
Previous attempts to locate the bell, by both domestic and foreign teams since 1987, either failed or did not materialize. Some treasures from the Shwedagon, part of the loot, are also believed to be there guarded by nat spirits, and some locals have claimed to have sighted the bell surfacing on a full moon night.
At the end of June 2012, the Historical Research Department of the Ministry of Culture and SD Mark International LLP Co of Singapore held a workshop in Yangon for a renewed attempt with the Singaporean firm pledging USD 10 million for the non-profit project.
Myanmar press reports in August 2014 claim that the bell has been found and that preparations were being made for salvaging it and bringing it to land shortly.
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- Gaspero Balbi. "Voyage to Pegu, and Observations There, Circa 1583" (PDF). SOAS, Autumn 2003. Retrieved 2011-05-08.
- Pearn, Bertie Reginald (1939). A History of Rangoon. Rangoon: American Baptist Mission Press. Retrieved 22 May 2010.
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- "Great Bell of Dhammazedi located, search team claims.". Eleven, no. 1 newsletter in Myanmar. August 27, 2014. Retrieved 2014-08-27.