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For 200 years, one of Myanmar’s most sacred religious relics has been wedged in a riverbed at Monkey Point off Yangon. The Great Bell of Dhammazedi was created for the King in 1480 and was said to be the largest bell ever made. It has been the lot of divers from all around the world to recover the Dhammazedi bell, yet so far, despite numerous enthusiastic attempts, nobody has been successful.
Dhammazedi (1412-1492) was the 16th king of Hanthawaddy Pegu (the lower region of modern Myanmar), and is considered by many as one of the greatest and most enlightened Hanthawaddy kings.
According to one account, the bell was created as a result of a census that was conducted 1480. Over-zealous census takers returned to the king with not only a count of the number of people in the kingdom, but also 300 tonnes of copper currency. The king was displeased at the unauthorised taxing of his subjects and opted to melt down the currency, and create the gigantic bell rather than seek to redistribute the currency.
The bell was cast on 5 February 1484 by order of King Dhammazedi. The chosen date was an astrologically inopportune time – astrology being an important facet of Myanmar culture – which the king’s advisors warned would produce a bell with poor sound. Nevertheless, the king proceeded and the new bell was donated to the Shwedagon Pagoda of Dagon (modern day Yangon).
It is believed to be the largest bell ever cast, said to be twelve cubits (approximately 5-6m) high and eight cubits (approximately 3-4m) wide, it was made from a large amount of silver, gold, copper and tin.
The bell remained at the pagoda until 1608 when a Portuguese adventurer, Filipe de Brito y Nicote removed the Dhammazedi bell from the pagoda and sought to transport it, through a combination of rolling it down a hill, hauling it by elephants, and then via a raft, across the river to Thanlyin to be melted down and made into cannons. Whilst transporting the bell the raft broke up and the bell fell to the bottom of the river.
The Portuguese party were subsequently killed by an attack of angry locals, with de Brito suffering a particularly grizzly end involving a series of bamboo stakes.
It is believed that the bell remains firmly wedged in the riverbed at Monkey Point – where the Bago and Yangon rivers meet. The top of the bell could reportedly be seen at low tide up until the late 1800’s.
Over the past three decades there have been numerous plans to locate and recover the bell, however the area it is most likely located is littered with up to 12 shipwrecks, and the muddy water makes visibility for divers extremely poor.
Recent attempts to locate the bell include those by diver Jim Blunt between 1995 and 1997, and English marine scientist and treasure hunter, Mike Hatcher in 2001.
In July 2010 it was reported that Australian documentary film maker Damien Lay was the latest to attempt to recover the bell. Mr. Lay stated in a report in The Myanmar Times that “an object was detected by sonar and is only slightly visible above the river floor that is likely to be the King Dhammazedi Bell”.
It is believed by many that the restoration of the bell to the pagoda will bring good fortune back to Myanmar.
Mitchell Brown is the head of AFG Venture Group’s IT&T sector and an adviser in mergers, acquisitions, divestments and fund raising. Since joining AFG Venture Group in 2001, Mitchell has worked on a diverse range of projects in a variety of industries including agribusiness, IT&T, and mining & resources. Mitchell has a Bachelor’s Degree in Agricultural Economics from the University of Sydney, and has recently completed a Masters in Applied Finance. He is a Fellow of the Financial Services Institute of Australasia (Finsia) and an alumnus of the Asialink Leaders Program.