Efforts are underway on the Rangoon River by a local team to find and recover the Great Bell of Dhammazedi – a giant bell that is said to have sunk 400 years ago.
The bronze Dhammazedi Bell is believed to have been cast in the 15th Century and is reputed to be the world’s largest, as some records say it weighs about 270 tonnes.
At the confluence of the Pegu and Rangoon Rivers, boats and trawlers can be seen searching for the legendary bell. Work began three days ago, headed by San Lin and his team of excavators who finally received government permission to recover the bell after years of trying.
Hundreds of spectators line the banks every day watching the boats in their search. The flurry of activity has created a moneymaking opportunity for the local ferrymen, who charge 1,000 kyat (US$1) per passenger to tour the area.
“There’s not much to see from here [the bank] so we are taking spectators out on tour to the spot,” said one ferryman. “There were more people yesterday because of the full moon, the tide is high right now.”
The bell is named after King Dhammazedi, a Mon ruler of Hanthawaddy in Pegu who commissioned the bell to be cast in 1484. Records show it originally stood at Shwedagon Pagoda but was removed in 1608 by Filipe de Brito e Nicote, a Portuguese warlord and mercenary who ruled Syriam (now Thanlyin) across the Rangoon River.
Filipe de Brito wanted the bell to be melted down and used to make cannons but as it was being transported across the river, the boat sank under the sheer weight of it. The Dhammazedi Bell has lain at the bottom of the river for the past 400 years.
There have been many previous attempts since the 1980s to recover the bell but all have failed. Any recovery operation is extremely complex – aside from the many layers of silt build up to contend with, the site is also littered with shipwrecks.
The team have received several donations from local businesses to help their search, which will continue for the next two weeks.