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A Buddhist monk rumoured to have clairvoyant powers — who was involved in efforts to retrieve the Great Bell of Dhammazedi from the Rangoon River – has dissociated himself from announcements that the fabled bell had been found.
Speaking to reporters on Sunday, Than Hlin Nat Sin Tayar Sayadaw denied ever proclaiming that the bell had been found or would be found, and accused Burmese newspapers of misquoting him.
The revered monk said that search crew leader San Lin had falsely announced on 26 August that the bell had been found on the seabed.
Several media outlets have now reported that it is believed Rangoon authorities were going to pull the plug on search efforts, and San Lin announced the discovery of the bell in the hope of buying time.
Than Hlin Nat Sin Tayar Sayadaw said that the search is continuing nonetheless.
According to Kyi Win, a member of the support team on the underwater search, the discovery on 26 August was just a piece of iron, not the elusive bronze bell –thought to be the largest in the world and weighing nearly 300 tons – which has reputedly lain at the confluence of the Rangoon and Pegu rivers since a ship carrying it sank more than 400 years ago.
Though many historians have questioned the accuracy of the tale, the Dhammazedi Bell is thought to have been cast in 1484 under the patronage of King Dhammazedi, a much-loved Mon monarch who ruled the Hanthawaddy Kingdom.
It was reportedly intended as a gift for the Shwedagon Pagoda in Rangoon, where it remained until the 1600s when a Portuguese mercenary, Filipe de Brito e Nicote, stole the bell and ordered that it be taken from the city to be melted down as material for cannons.
It was on that fateful journey from Rangoon’s port that the Europeans’ boat capsized under the weight of the bell – at a reputed 270 tons, the same weight as a Boeing 747 or 25 double-decker buses.
Over the years, several unsuccessful missions have been launched to find the Dhammazedi Bell, and salvage efforts were renewed again this year when a Burmese team was able to raise more than US$250,000, mostly from local business people.
According to the treasurer of the search team, no donated funds have yet been used to fund the underwater mission, only the 70 million kyat ($70,000) contributed personally by San Lin. He said they have a detailed list of expenses.
Than Hlin Nat Sin Tayar Sayadaw was invited to join the effort in August, and he sat on the main salvage boat where he tried to determine the exact site of the wreckage through his supernatural skills.
Several historians and researchers have now come forward expressing their doubts whether the boat containing the bell sank on the Rangoon River some 400 years ago, with some even questioning whether the enormous bell existed in the first place.