Divers Probe River’s Depths in Latest Search for Dhammazedi Bell

Dredgers operate as part of a salvage team attempting to retrieve the Great Bell of Dhammazedi from the Rangoon River on Tuesday. (Photo: Hein Htet / The Irrawaddy)

Dredgers operate as part of a salvage team attempting to retrieve the Great Bell of Dhammazedi from the Rangoon River on Tuesday. (Photo: Hein Htet / The Irrawaddy)

RANGOON — A salvage team is working to retrieve an ancient bell said to have sunk to the bottom of the Rangoon River more than 400 years ago.

Win Myint, a leading member of the team, said the latest effort to find the Great Bell of Dhammazedi, believed to be the world’s largest, began four days ago.

“We believe we will find it. Today, we could dive only once as the current was quite strong. Ten divers are working on it,” he said, adding that among the dive team are ethnic Moken, also known as “sea gypsies” who hail from Burma’s Myeik archipelago and are famous for their deep-sea diving abilities.

“We can’t disclose more information right now,” Win Myint said, without providing a reason for the scant details.

The team received permission from the Rangoon Divisional government to attempt to retrieve the sunken bell last month.

During a press conference on July 25, San Lin, the leader of the salvage team, said the project would last 45 days, and would cost 200 million kyats (US$250,000), with most of the funding coming from donations.

San Lin added that he was involved in seven previous attempts to retrieve the bell, and claimed he had spotted the bell underwater in 1998.

In the area where the bell is believed to have sunk, the team worked with dredgers on Tuesday to remove silt from the bottom of the river.

The bell is believed to lie at the bottom of the muddy confluence of the Bago and Rangoon rivers, where it has remained for more than four centuries. A colonial governor of Syriam, now known as Thanlyin, stole it from Shwedagon Pagoda in 1608 to be melted down and made into cannons. Historical records say the bell fell from a raft and sank on its way across the river.

From 1987 to 1998, the Burmese government and private individuals, including some foreigner prospectors, made several attempts to retrieve the bell in vain, with poor visibility, silting, nearby shipwrecks and 400 years of shifting currents stymying the efforts.

In 2012, a Singaporean firm claimed to have a $10 million budget for the project and hoped to complete the search in about 18 months, but there has been no information about the planned project since.

Last year, Khin Shwe, a well-known businessman and lawmaker from the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), said he too had plans to salvage the Great Bell of Dhammazedi, even if the costs of the project rose to $10 million.

The Irrawaddy’s Htet Naing Zaw contributed reporting.

2 Responses to Divers Probe River’s Depths in Latest Search for Dhammazedi Bell

  1. Khin Shwe must not be allowed to salvage this holy bell using his dirty money.

  2. Dear Sir,

    A well deserved three calls of ‘sar-dhu’, to U San Lin and U Win Myint on this noble project. The Hon. Mon King Dhammaceti also known in Mon King Rajaddapti(a former monk) who ruled Pegu from the 1470 until early 1450s. The Mon Capital Pegu were invaded by the Burmese warrior King Tabinshweti in 1539.

    As today, Mon and Burmese leaders (Burma’s Tadmadaw and Mon Resistance Leaders) are seeking Peace Agreement.

    From the late 13th A.D until the early 18th A.D, both Mon and Burmese kings have been living in both peace and war time as rivals.

    However, the good will of both Mon and Burmese kings have been accorded in large pagodas and bells as we could track from the scripts.

    I am wondered why the UNESCO (United Nations Education, Sciences and Cultural Organzations), the world peak body on preserving heritages is silence on this project.

    As our moral leaders lime U San Lin and U Win Myint observes “8 preserves” in Burmese test ‘cit-pa-si-la’, the entire population of Rangoon, Pegu, Mon and Irrawaddy whom are Buddhist shall be preserving at least ‘5 preserves’, in order to purify body and soul.

    The Mon King Dhammaceti, has been known as a king of ‘kindness’ as known as ‘mitta’ in Mon and Pali text.

    During the Mon Princess Shin Saw Bu were detained in In-va (estimated between 1430 – 1450 A.D, a well-educated monk toured to the In-va capital for preaching dhamma. The monk and his fellows brought the Princess back without prior knowledge of the Burmese King. He mastered the ‘plan’ to take the Princess back by boat at night and sheltered in the bush during the day.

    Under the title of ‘Dhamma Pala, the monk were disrobed to be herniated as the next king of Pegu (as known as) ‘Hongsawatoi’ in Mon.

    Historically, the only British, Portuguese and France were linked with Asian’s countries in early 13th and late 14th century.

    After the detraction of the Mon Capital Pegu in 1757, the historical record of the Mon Royal families and cultural identities have been damaged or destroyed.

    Therefore, We (Mon people) have little resource / record to review and research for our own historical monuments.

    On this note, The Salvage Project of the Bell, shall be a National Project led by Moral leaders, monks and ordinary citizens. This project (The re-appearance of the Bell) could be claimed that we (Mon and Burmese People) have been living with wisdom for lasting peace on earth.

    Congratulation to the entire Salvage Team. You are part of the History Sir!

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