Thursday, December 08, 2005

Historical Sources for the Damazedi Bell II

The internet links to the Damazedi Bell from a previous post, I traced this back to some historical sources:

1. The casting of the bell

From January 22, 1476 the Mon king Damazedi sent a mission for religious reformation to Sri Lanka consisting of one senior monk Mogallana and ten junior monks. The monks were reordained in Sri Lanka and the mission arrived back in Dagon on September 3rd. The large bell played an important role in the ceremonies welcoming the monks back. On September 25th Damazedi “left Hanthawaddy [Pegu] for Dagon; the big bell made by his order for the Shwedagon was ready.” On October 2nd there was the “ceremony of hanging the king’s bell at the Shwedagon; it weighed 3,000 viss” and on the next day Damazedi held a feast for all the monks in Dagon. Three days later Damazedi left Dagon and arrived back in the capital Pegu after a four day journey (Than Tun, Royal Orders of Burma, part two, p. xi, citing “Kalyani Inscription” (1958) (ed) LPW, pp. 72-80, but probably in this English work also: Taw Sein Ko. A Preliminary Study of the Kalyani Inscriptions of Dhammachedi, 1476 A.D. Bombay: Education Society’s Steam Press. 1893, there's a copy at Chiangmai University Library).

2. Attempted Portuguese theft of the bell and loss in the river:

In the Chronicle of Syriam:

“When Anauk Pet Lun arrived at Prome there was a Feringhi Kala, Nga Zinga [Portuguese adventurer Philip de Brito y Nicote]. This man, intending to convert it into into a cannon had removed the large bell placed on the Theingottara Hill by Dhammazeti, who had presented it to the Shwe Dagon. By the power of Buddha he and his vessel sank in the Panalwe Creek before his intention could be fulfilled” (Furnivall, John Sydenham. “A Forgotten Chronicle.” Journal of the Burma Research
Society 2.2 (December, 1912): 161-167.; Furnivall (1915) “The History of Syriam” Journal of the Burma Research Association, p. 52-53).

The plundering of the Dammazedi Bell by Portuguese raises questions. Was it common practice to plunder the religious wealth after a military victory? Since most of the food surplus of a society would have been stored in the form of such religious wealth, it seems it might have been common practice. When later in his reign in the 1570’s Bayinnaung began to show (at least according to the Burmese chronicle) more respect for local Tai rule and culture in Chiangmai and Lan Chang, did he leave more of the religious wealth intact? During Tai rule at Ava (1527-1555) explicit mention is made in the chronicle of the plundering of religious wealth, but was this really exceptional in the early modern period even if two cultures shared the same religion such as Theravadan Buddhism? Did Burmese military expeditions to Arakan and Ayutthaya plunder religious wealth? Chronicle renditions of history could contain logical contradictions like this, finding instances of plundering religious wealth in the practices of other cultures while remaining blind to their own pactices.

As usual, almost all the references are in Harvey’s “History of Burma”. Should have checked him first. Nowadays, the only acceptable thing to do with Harvey, it seems, is to criticize him. If you cite him, you look silly, but he is one of the best indexes into the sources, if you can ignore his often obnoxious or silly colonial era historical interpretations. If he had stuck with literal source translations in the English of the King James Bible, let’s say, he would have better maintained his value for posterity. (My Bahai friend says this style is the best for sacred (and maybe semi-sacred texts like the Burmese Chronicle which begins its history at the beginning of time). Although I don’t really agree with her, it is hard to render sacred language in neutral non-sacred language. At least with the King James Bible there is a one-to-one match.).