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The Dhammazedi Bell, for centuries believed to be lost beneath the silt at the confluence of the Pegu and Rangoon rivers, may at last have been found by a team of local divers.
“We have found it!” search team leader San Lin told DVB by phone on Tuesday. Offering no further detail on the bell’s location or how the team plans to retrieve it, he added that, “we will hold a press conference later.”
On a mission that began on 9 August, San Lin’s men dropped daily to the river floor to search for the bell, guided by little other than an accompanying monk and a collective will to uncover one of the country’s most mysterious and beloved treasures. Crowds of tourists — domestic and foreign alike — dished out 1,000 kyat (US$1) to observe the hopeful hunt.
The elusive bronze bell – thought to be the largest in the world and weighing nearly 300 tons – was cast in 1484 under the patronage of King Dhammazedi, a much-loved Mon monarch who ruled the Hanthawaddy Kingdom.
Intended as a gift for the Shwedagon Pagoda in Rangoon, there it remained until European merchants began to frequent Lower Burma. In the very early 1600s, Portuguese mercenary Filipe de Brito e Nicote, after leading a force of Arakanese to sack the kingdom’s capital, ordered that the bell be removed and melted down as material for cannons.
As legend has it, De Brito’s crew rolled the bell downhill and hauled it with the help of several elephants to the bank of the Pegu River. There it was loaded onto a raft and strapped to his flagship for what was meant to be a rather short trip.
Alas, the raft buckled under the weight of the enormous object, which dragged the whole ship along as it sank to the floor, presumably at the confluence of the Pegu and Rangoon rivers.
No one has had much of a clue as to the bell’s exact whereabouts, and some remained sceptical that it still existed. But San Lin has assured DVB that the cynics will soon become believers.
“We have located it and we are trying to bring up what we found,” he said.
If their find really is the beloved Dhammazedi Bell, San Lin and his modest crew will be the first of several handsomely funded discovery missions to actually achieve their goal. Other attempts, much like Burma’s other famed snipe hunt — the spitfire mission — ended without resolve.