Largest Gilded Building, The Shwedagon Pagoda

Largest Gilded Building, The Shwedagon Pagoda

 

The Mingun Bell

The Great Mingun Bell was built by the longest reigning monarch of the Konbaung dynasty King Bodawpaya (1782-1819). In fact, any mention of Mingun would be incomplete without mentioning the two other great deeds. King Bodawpaya's four Great noble deeds also known as the Great Four: the Great Pagoda, the Great Bell, the Great Lake and the Great Lion. All these Great Fours are located in Mingun 19 miles from Sagaing and situated at the west bank of Ayeyarwaddy.

Nine years after the accession to the throne, King Bodawpaya handed over his royal responsibilities to his son the Crown Prince and left the capital to oversee the construction of the Great Pagoda in Mingun. The foundation of the Great Pagoda Pahtodawgyi was laid on BE 1152, 5th day of the waxing moon of Tapodwe (9 January 1791). The pagoda if completed would have risen to the height of 500 feet, the largest one in the whole country and probably the highest in the world. It was left unfinished when Bodawpaya died in 1819. It is the biggest brick pile in the world, the bottom terrace being a square of 450 feet, the basement on which the domical superstructure would rest.

For maximum safety, layers upon layers of brickwork were used internally instead of scaffolding. In order for the brickwork to be symmetrical and smooth, a central pillar 44 feet in circumference was erected to serve as a reference point. Big iron rings were used to reinforce the structure.

Overlooking the Ayeyarwaddy river in front of the eastern face of the Pagoda, two Great Lions, each standing 95 feet in height, were constructed in 1793. Eight hundred thousand bricks were reportedly used for the purpose. The Great Lake measuring 420 feet in width and 31.8 feet in depth was also constructed. However, the Great Lions and the Great Lake do not seem to have received much of King Bodawpaya's attention.

Bodawpaya's best remembered noble deed is the donation of the Great Bell, the Mingun Bell. Bells are known in Myanmar culture as an omnipresent feature of religious affairs. Evidence of bell casting dates back as early as the Pyu Period and throughout the ages, donation of bells to pagodas, shrines, Buddhist ordination halls (Simas) and monasteries have become a tradition. On every htee of a pagoda the tiny bells made of gold, silver and bronze are hung there to tinkle with the wind. In addition to the delight of the bigger bells ringing in solemn melody, the tinkling of the tiny one at the htee provide a rare pleasure. Myanmar Buddhists have a ritual of striking a bell after saying prayers to call on others within hearing to share the merit arising out of their good deeds. Bells usually have inscriptions as to the name of the donor, the time of donation and the reason for donation. This custom of inscribing on bells has become a source of primary historical evidence invaluable for researchers.

Bodawpaya assigned the task of casting the great Mingun Bell to the Chief of the Metal Works, Nanda Kyaw Swa. The King himself moved to a temporary place on the middle island a short distance to the east of Mingun to supervise the casting of the Bell personally. A mould of clay was first made, smoothed out and then waxed. Elaborate designs were etched on the waxwork and more clay was applied before casting the bronze. The amount of wax used for the Bell reportedly amounted to 45,330 viss.

The casting of the Bell began on the night of 29th April 1808. Bronze weighing 65,877 viss was used in casting the bell. On the girder the Bell were inscribed the words "Cast on 23 March 1810 in the 28th year of the royal reign", indicating a work period of nearly 2 years.

To achieve a pleasant ringing sound the Bell was cast with an alloy of five metals in the ancient Myanmar tradition: gold, silver, bronze, iron and lead. The total expenditure for the Bell amounted to 0.65 million (658,726) Kyats.

The Bell weighs 55,555.55 viss (90.52 tons). The weight varies according to different sources.

Myanmar has a tradition of using mnemonic expression to facilitate memorizing weight. In the expression "Min Phyu Hman Hman Pyaw", used to denote the weight of the Bell, the Myanmar consonants 'M', 'Ph', 'Hm' and 'P' all stand for Thursday, which in turn represents the number 5, yields five 5s, the weight of the Bell in viss.

As for the dimensions of the Bell, the outer diameter of the rim of the bell comes to 16 feet and 3 inches. The height of the Bell is 12 feet on the exterior and 11½ feet in the interior. The outside circumference at the rim is 50.75 feet. The Bell is 6 inches to 12 inches thick and stands 20.7 feet high from the rim to the top.

The giant Bell was cast on an island in the middle of the Ayeyarwady River to the east of Mingun. The transportation from the island across the river to Mingun was challenging. Thus the King ordered anyone who had any idea how to go about it to be brought into his royal presence. After questioning the experts personally, and failing to obtain a practical plan for the project. King Bodawpaya issued a royal order dated 17 September 1808 which stated:

Casting the Royal Big Bell is successfully completed and it weighs 200,000 (viss)/ 730,000 lbs/ 331,120 kg; to move it to the west bank of Ayeyarwaddy river would not be easy and it seems that no one could suggest how it could be done; send Amyauk Wun - officer of Cannons, to Yangon (Rangoon) to ask Myo Wun - Town Officer, Hanthawaddy (Bago) to get anyone there either native or foreign, sailor or engineer who knows any mechanical device in loading and unloading heavy things on or off the (sea going) ships; if such a man were found, Hanthawaddy Town Officer shall bring him here (immediately).

The King sent the Amyauk wun (Minister of the Artilleries) to Yangon with orders for the Hanthawady Myowun to seek and recruit anyone skilled in handling heavy loads, boats and machinery.

Before moving the Great Bell to Mingun a 36-foot canal, big enough for two Karaweik Barges was dug under the Bell. The canal was big enough to be called a Raft Creek. In 1811, the King ordered the immediate preparation of a heavily decorated barge for the Bell.

Upon completion of all the work including the construction and preparation of the double-hulled barge under the Bell, it was necessary to wait for the rainy season when the river water would rise high enough to fill up the Raft Creek, raising the barge which in turn floated upon the waters with the Great Bell on it. It was a time for celebration and the King himself led the happy occasion together with golden barges, boats, and ships that filled up the whole expanse of the river. A flotilla surrounded the Royal Barge bearing the Bell and made their way down westward to the site of the Bell. The festivities were held for days, and the King and the Queen, the Princes and Princesses, Royal Grandsons and Granddaughters, Ministers and the general public joined this happy occasion. Metal casters, carpenters, Ponnas (brahmins), technicians and even labourers who handled the tongs were rewarded with an abundance of cash and coins, cloths and accessories.

A commemoration record of the Great Bell was inscribed and preserved on palm leaf and parabaik manuscripts which constitute invaluable historical evidence, the most important of which are the biographical glimpses of King Bodawpaya, the prevailing religious and social conditions of the time and Bodawpaya's achievements to foster friendly relations with Assam, Manipur, Ceylon, Calcutta, Bengal, Thailand, Lin Zin, England and China. As a consequence of the friendly and good relation with China, Bodawphaya received the sacred tooth relic of the Buddha from China. The record also mentioned Bodawpaya's effort to cleanse the Buddhist Order and how he resolved the problem of split and controversy among the monks.

The Great Mingun Bell is hung to the north of the Pahtodawgyi on the low circular terrace from a 3-piece wooden beam covered with a metal plate. The beam rests on two brick pillars which are reinforced with two teak posts inside. In the 1838 earthquake, approximately 18 pounds of metal fell off from the bottom of the Bell, while the Bell itself required buttressing with big wooden posts. The bell did not swing free any more as the supports were so much shaken by the earthquake. In 1904 a Scot from the Ayeyarwady Flotilla Company replaced the wooden posts with iron ones. The Great Bell is the world's biggest hanging bell, as well as the world's biggest bell that rings. In conclusion I quote Scott O' Connor wrote:

The Big Bell at Mingun ... it emits a deep, musical, prolonged vibration on being struck with a light wooden post. When one first hears this sound issuing from amongst the trees, one pauses to wonder what it can be, for it is no single note, but a deep tremor which fills the air and one can almost feel the contact of the waves as they come floating as they come in visibly along. It is indeed a great majestic voice, that is heard only in its faint whisperings.

The World's Largest Bell Underwater

The Great Bell of Dhammazedi is known to be the largest or the heaviest bell in the whole world, although it still is under water. Casted by King Dhammazedi of Myanmar in Yangon, and was donated to Shwedagon Pagoda. The great bell was a victim of Portugal colonialism was removed and taken to Thanlyin (Syrium) across Dawpone River where the great bell and the boat sank together ever since. For more information please visit : The World's Largest Bell Underwater.


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