Thursday, December 15, 2005

The Great Sunken Bell of Dhammazedi

On the auspicious day 5 February 1484 the Mon king Dhammazedi had a 600 ton bell cast (293.4 metric = about 600 US tons) out of copper that his ministers had collected from the people against his wishes as taxes. He donated it to the great Shwedagon pagoda. Whether this is based on oral or written sources is not clear since this information is taken from sites online that don't cite their sources.

In 1583, the Venetian merchant Gasparo Balbi described the bell, "I found in a fair 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, so near together that one touches the other, but there was no Nation that could understand them." Balbi's text is available online. Look at page 29 for a description of the bell.

In the 1608, Filipe de Brito y Nicote ("Nga-zin-ka" in Burmese) was transporting the bell to his fort on Syriam (Than-lyin) island to melt it down and use it in cannons, but at the confluence of the Pegu and Yangon rivers the bell fell into the river and has never been recovered. Until the late 1800's the top of the bell was visible at low tide. The bell is buried below the mud at the bottom of the river. The location can supposedly be seen from Shu-kin-tha amusement park at Pegu point.

This information comes from a Burmese site and a Russian site as well as two weblogs in Burma [1|2].

Here is one news release and another:

November 3, 2004 Dow Jones International News
Myanmar to hunt for historic treasures under riverbeds

Yangon: Myanmar plans next year to begin retrieving cultural treasures that have been buried under riverbeds for centuries, a local cultural journal reported Wednesday.

Foreign experts will train people from Myanmar's archaeology and water resources departments in underwater archaeology skills next year, and the hunt should start soon after, Flower News said.

The journal quoted Hla Gyi Maung Maung, director-general of the Archaeology Department, as saying the search would focus on the Ayeyarwaddy River along which the ancient cities of Bagan, Tagaung and Amarapura once flourished.

The official said the Great Bell of Dhammazedi, which has been lying in the Yangon River for centuries, will be among the treasures salvaged if the training proves successful.

A monarch donated the giant bronze bell to the capital's Shwedagon Pagoda in 1476, but it was stolen by a Portuguese adventurer. However, the vessel carrying the bell sank. Until the late 1800s, the top of the sunken bell could still be seen at low tide.

Earlier attempts to salvage the Dhammazedi Bell, which is believed to weigh about 270 metric tons, were unsuccessful.