RANGOON — Well-known businessman and ruling party lawmaker Khin Shwe says he plans to salvage the Great Bell of Dhammazedi from the bottom of the Rangoon River, even if the costs of the project rise to US$10 million.
The bell, which is believed to be the largest in the world, sunk into the river more than 400 years ago and since the late 1980s there have been several unsuccessful attempts to recover it.
Zay Thiha, Khin Shwe’s son, said his father was working with the abbot of the Kyaik Htee Saung Pagoda, located near Mon State’s Golden Rock shrine, to organize a salvaging operation for the long-lost bell. “Our family will cover 100 percent of the costs of this project,” he told The Irrawaddy in a brief message.
Khin Shwe told local journal Snapshot on Monday, “We’ve already hired big ships to salvage the bell. After that—if we can salvage the bell—we will put it on display at Shwedagon Pagoda.”
“One foreign expert predicted that salvaging the bell will cost between $5 million and $10 million. Whatever the cost, I’m ready to spend any amount,” said Khin Shwe, who is the chairman of Zay Kabar Company and a Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) Lower House MP.
Zay Kabar Company is one of the largest property developers in Burma and the firm was involved in numerous high-profile real estate projects during past years of military rule. Khin Shwe is an in-law of Shwe Mann, the USDP chairman and Union Parliament Speaker.
The powerful businessman told Snapshot that his project would succeed due to the mystical powers of the abbot of Kyaik Htee Saung Pagoda. “King Dhammazedi was born on a Tuesday and so is the abbot of Kyaik Htee Saung [Pagoda]. So, I’m 100 percent confident that this project will be a success,” he was quoted as saying.
The article provided no details about the salvaging project and Khin Shwe could not be reached for comment on Tuesday.
The Mon King Dhammazedi ordered the Great Bell cast in 1484 and offered it as a present to Shwedagon Pagoda. According to historical records, the bell is made of 290-tons of copper, gold, silver and tin alloy, which would make it the biggest bell in the world.
Portuguese warlord Filipe de Brito e Nicote (known as Nga Zinka in Burmese) conquered Syriam and Pegu with the help of an Arakanese army in the early 16th century. He removed the Dhammazedi bell with the intention of melting it down and using it to make cannons, but a raft that was transporting the bell sank at the confluence of the Pegu and Rangoon River, at a site known as Monkey Point, in 1608.
The lost bell has long been a source of fascination for Burmese and foreign researchers. Since the late 1980s, the Burma government and private individuals have 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 wrote several books about the history of the bell, was the first to organize a salvage attempt in 1987 and has made several attempts since, including an effort carried out in 1996 with the support of then-Military Intelligence chief Khin Nyunt.
He told The Irrawaddy that unless Khin Shwe’s project involves state-of-the-art salvaging technology operated by overseas experts it was doomed to fail, adding that the bell had never been located.
“I don’t believe the bell can be recovered without the use of the latest technology, because according to my experience, using local technology won’t work,” Chit San Win said, adding that he supported Khin Shwe’s project.
In July 2012, Chit San Win, the Historical Research Department of the Ministry of Culture and SD Mark International LLP Co. of Singapore organized a workshop in Rangoon to seek suggestions for recovering the bell.
The Singaporean firm claimed to have a $10 million budget for the project and hoped to complete the project in about 18 months, but there has been no information about the planned project since. According to a source familiar with the project, the ministry cancelled the plan after officials became concerned over a lack of necessary project funds.