Script: The big ding dong

Script: The big ding dong

An ancient king wanted to own the world’s biggest bell, but it was not an easy task.

Voice 1: In the year 1484, King Dhammazedi of the Kingdom of Hanthawaddy in what is now Myanmar ordered the best craftsmen and artists in the land to visit him. He had a job for them: he wanted them to craft a mighty bell that would hang in the Shwedagon Pagoda in the city of Dagon.

Voice 2: The king instructed the men that no cost was to be spared in making the bell. It had to be cast in gold, silver and bronze not made with the base bronze usually used to cast temple bells. King Dhammazedi had one more order for his bell makers. This special temple bell had to be the biggest in the known world.

Voice 1: Months later, the great bell was ready to be hung in its place of honour in the Shwedagon Pagoga. It was twelve cubits high and eight cubits wide. Two hundred and seventy tonnes of silver, gold, copper and tin had been melted down to cast the bell. The whole surface of the monster was covered with intricate writing and drawings. It was a thing of great power and beauty.

Voice 2: A complicated lifting structure had to be built to hoist the bell into place. Everything went well as the heavy metal bell was moved into position. There was only one thing now that everyone was waiting for - beautiful musical note would surely ring through the air as the clapper struck metal for the first time.

Voice 1: But when he'd ordered that the bell be made, King Dhammazedi had ignored a warning from the royal astrologer. The astrologer said this was an inauspicious time to begin making a temple bell as the stars were lined up in the Crocodile formation. If the king went ahead, the bell would be silent. The warning fell on deaf ears, and casting the bell began.

Voice 2: According to reports of the time, the bell made a dreadful, hollow sound when first struck. Everyone was shocked that such a beautiful thing could make such an awful sound. For more than a hundred and twenty years, the Great Bell of Dhammazedi hung there - silent and almost forgotten.

Voice 1: The story of the bell moves on to the fifteen nineties. A Portuguese mercenary called Filipe de Brito arrived in Burma, and with weapons and soldiers systematically moved through the area seizing land and power from the local kings and lords. In 1608, the Portuguese invaders arrived in Dagon and saw the Dhammazedi Bell for the first time. Their commander decided to remove the bell from the pagoda where it had hung for more than a century and transport it to a site where it could be melted down and made into guns and cannons on ships.

Voice 2: De Brito and his men moved the bell from its housing and rolled it down the hillside to a creek where a raft was waiting. It took a long time and a great deal of manpower to get the bell onto the floating wooden platform. From there, a team of elephants pulled the raft to the nearby River Bago, where de Brito's warship was waiting. The raft was lashed to the side of the ship and the river journey began to the Portuguese camp at Syriam, where furnaces were waiting to melt the bell down.

Voice 1: But the Portuguese had underestimated the weight of the bell, and the power of the gods. At the confluence of the Bago River and the Yangon River, the raft began to break up under its load, and the bell slowly sank to the bottom of the river, dragging the Portuguese warship and its crew down with it to a watery grave.

Voice 2: The Giant Bell of Dhammazedi, reputedly the biggest bell ever cast, still lies today under tonnes of mud at the bottom of the Yangon River. There have been attempts to find it and raise it to the surface, but none have been successful. Dhammazedi's bell has found a resting place, and there is where it intends to stay.



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