Singapore Firm to Help Raise Sunken Bell

Artist’s impression of the 520-year-old Dhammazedi Bell which is reputed to be the largest in the world.

RANGOON—After several failed attempts to salvage the world’s largest bell which currently rests at the bottom of a Rangoon river, a new project is likely to be launched at the end of the year with the help of a Singaporean company.

Earlier this month, the Historical Research Department of the Ministry of Culture and SD Mark International LLP Co. of Singapore organized a workshop in the former capital to seek suggestions for rescuing the 520-year-old Dhammazedi Bell.

“We’ve already had agreement at ministerial level. The company is now having further discussions with the government authorities. When completed, we will be able to start locating the bell in December when the rainy season is completely over,” Chit San Win, the official liaison for the salvaging project, told The Irrawaddy.

The bell is believed to have lain at the bottom of the muddy confluence of the Bago and Rangoon rivers for four centuries. A colonial governor of Syriam apparently looted it from the Shwedagon Pagoda in 1612 to be melted down and made into cannons. Historical records say the bell fell from a raft and sank into the water on its way across the city.

From 1987 to 1998, the Burmese government and private individuals, including some foreigner prospectors, tried in vain to retrieve the bell, with poor visibility, silting, nearby shipwrecks and 400 years of shifting currents hampering progress.

Chit San Win, who was also involved in previous salvage attempts and has published three books on the bell, said that former efforts failed due to a lack of financial and technological assistance.

But this time, with US $10 million support from SD Mark International and the participation of a renowned British explorer and marine salvager, he is hopeful that the 18-month operation will prove successful.

“In my experience, to spot the exact location of the bell is the most difficult task,” he said. “If you know where it is, the rest becomes easy. This time we could make it.”

To ensure success, the company will work with Michael Mike Hatcher who is famous for his recovery of large quantities of Chinese porcelain from the Dutch East India Company ship Geldermalsen.

According to the opening address by Culture and Information Minister Kyaw Hsan at the recent workshop, the company offered to return the bell to Burma to be restored at the Shwedagon Pagoda as part of a non-profit project.

“If successful, the company will have to pay $6 million to Michael Mike Hatcher for his efforts,” said Chit San Win. “The only request they made to the government is to allow them to publish the salvaging accounts of the bell. But if the authorities give them some reward, they would be happy to accept it.”

Historical records say that the Dhammazedi Bell is 290-tons of copper, gold, silver and tin alloy. The retrieval would confirm the bell as the largest one ever cast for it would outweigh the 128-ton Moscow Bell otherwise considered to be in first place.

In his 1853 account of a visit to the Shwedagon Pagoda, Venetian gem merchant Gaspero Balbi wrote that the bell was “seven paces and three hand breadths and full of letters from top to bottom.”

Chit San Win said that any engraved writing could provide a window to Burmese history, and the bell itself would be an invaluable artifact of ancient art. “It will surely become a symbol of national pride and a tourist attraction if successfully salvaged for it is the largest bell in the world,” he added.

Apart from the great Dhammazedi, the Shwedagon Pagoda still boasts two other huge bells: the Singu and Thayawaddy each weighing 24 and 42 tons respectively. The Singu Bell met the same fate as the Dhammazedi Bell in 1824 when the British tried to carry it to India, but it was subsequently raised and returned to its rightful place.

Meanwhile, the state-run The Mirror newspaper reported on Monday that ringing the 234-year-old Singu Bell will be prohibited from August in order to aid its preservation.


10 Responses to Singapore Firm to Help Raise Sunken Bell

  1. Good things happening.
    There were bells in the Irrawaddy but nobody heard them ringing.
    Till the big change in Myanmar came along.
    This is good omen.
    I am sure the Irrawaddy Media will be very proud because you chose the best name ever.

  2. Just to refresh peole’s memories:
    The “colonial governor of Syriam” was a Portuguese sailor and mercenary named Filip de Brito y Nicote, who conquered Syriam in 1599 in the name of the Arakan King “Man Raza Kri” (Min Yaza Gyi in Burmese). He then betrayed the Arakan King and set up a small Portuguese colony based at Syriam for a while until he was defeated by the Burmese King. He was impaled on a stake. King Dhammazedi, who donated the bell to the Shwedagon Pagoda was a Mon King from Hanthawaddy and ruled about a hundred years before de Brito’s “exploits”.
    (you can see that even before the British were there Burma had ethnic struggles involving “foreigners” LOL)

    • Let me add a footnote:
      Given how many “Myanmarese” are nowadays so “obsessed” about defining the “origina” 135 ethnic groups (taing yin tha lu myo) that “belong” to “Myanmar” (people even want to enshrine that in the constitution?), it’s good to remember that there are descendents of Portuguese (bayingyi) (not to mention Arabs, Armenians, Persians etc.) living in Burma. Of course they have mixed with the Burmese and have forgotten about their ancestors. Indians and Chinese are not the only “aliens” who came to Burma. Besides, if you go back far enough in history, human migration was the natural order of things and it would be very difficult to “define” who the original (indigenous) inhabitants of Burma were (the Kachin moved into Burma less than 500 years ago, the Kokang Chinese less than 300 years ago etc.)

      • And your point is?

        The original inhabitants are probably negrito races. Just because the US do not want to talk about indigenous races it doesn’t mean other lands do not have them or do not acknowledge migration. Depends entirely on how these immigrants behave. They don’t have an automatic right to citizenship, not in the US, not anywhere else in the world.

        • The USA and Canada does give automatic citizenship to anyone born there, irrespective of ethnicity or religion (that is why some well-to-do pregnant Chinese ladies come to the US to give birth!).
          Well my point is that the Burmese citizenship laws tie up citizenship to ethnicity. I am sure that the negrito races (some of them still live on the Andaman Islands) are not included in the 135 “Myanmarese indigenous ethnic groups”. (I personally think I am a mix of a bit of negrito, a bit of mon-khmer, a bit of pyu a bit of Thek (or Chakma) and perhaps even a bit of Rohingya LOL)

  3. ..there were bells..in the hills..but i never heard them ringing..no i never heard them at all…til there was you….
    ..there were bells.. in the irrawaddy..but i never heard it ringing…no i never heard it at all…til there is change and hope…

  4. Portuguese Government should pay the costs for salvaging Dhammazedi Bell because its citizen and official Filipe de Brito e Nicote or Nga Zinga steal and sank the Bell.
    Filipe de Brito e Nicote was officially recognized and awarded as “Commander of Syriam”, “General of the conquests of Pegu(pronounced BAGO)”, and “King of Pegu” by the Portuguese royal court in 1602.
    Therefore, Portuguese Government is responsible for cost for salvaging Dhammazedi Bell which was stolen and sank by one of its appointed king for Pegu.
    Portuguese Government should donate money to Dhammazedi Bell project. It’ll be very nice of Portuguese Government if they do.

  5. A correction:
    The article said:
    “In his 1853 account of a visit to the Shwedagon Pagoda, Venetian gem merchant Gaspero Balbi wrote that the bell was “seven paces and three hand breadths and full of letters from top to bottom.””
    The date should be 1583, because in 1853 the bell was already at the bottom of the Rangoon River!

  6. Umm.excuse me..first of all, I saw the news about thudhamamanizawtadhaya U San Lin is going to excavate that dhamazedi bell next month. So, do u know anything about U San Lin??

    • Jim Blunt, Master Diver USA

      Good Luck,the Great Bell is 28 feet below the bottom of the river,in thick mud.
      The Dowbon Vortex fills in any hole with each change of tide. So you need to dredge 24 hours and build a cofferdam to hold back the mud to get anything done. Thats just uncovering the Bell. Raising it out of the muck there is nothing heavy enough in the Country to raise it . You need lots of money, experienced professionals who have been there and
      done that.The bottom of the Harbor is already full of junk to start out with.Never mind the Spirit Gaurd and Ogres, thats the least of raising the Dhammazedi Bell problems.

      The only easy day is yesterday

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