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Great Bell, Shwe Dagon Pagoda, Rangoon

Great Bell, Shwe Dagon Pagoda, Rangoon

Photographer: Klier, Philip Adolphe (c.1845-1911)

Medium: Photographic print

Date: 1895

Shelfmark: Photo 88/1(15)

Item number: 88115

Length: 26

Width: 20.7

Scale: Centimetres

Genre: Photograph

Photograph of King Singu Min’s bell at the Shwe Dagon Paya (Pagoda), Rangoon (Yangon), in Burma (Myanmar), taken by Philip Adolphe Klier in the 1890s. The Shwe Dagon is Burma’s most revered Buddhist shrine, believed to have been founded 2500 years ago to house hair relics of the Buddha. There are two famous bells at the Shwe Dagon, the products of a long tradition of bronze casting in Burma. The bell of ‘Great Sound’, or Maha-ganda, is housed in a pavilion on the north-west of the pagoda platform. It was dedicated to the Shwe Dagon by Singu Min of the Konbaung dynasty (ruled 1776-82). This celebrated bell weighing 23 tons was removed from the shrine by the British in 1824 during the first Anglo-Burmese war when they occupied Rangoon. They intended to transport it to England as war booty. In the process of being loaded onto a ship, the bell slipped and fell into the Irrawaddy, and all efforts of the British engineers to retrieve it failed. It was then recovered and towed back to the shore by the Burmese who were allowed to restore it to the Shwe Dagon. The removal of the bell caused it to suffer some damage and as a result it is now silent, its mellow tones lost forever. In this view a Burmese man points to the inscription engraved on the bell which requests that the king might obtain Nirvana as a result of his act of merit. The inscription reads:

‘Let him not meet with that towards which he has no mental disposition and for which he has no desire. When Arimettiya, the last Buddha, shall be revealed, let him have the revelation that he may become a nat supreme of the three rational existences. Let the nats who guard the royal city, the palace, the umbrella, the nats who all around guard the empire, the provinces, the villages, the nats who guard the monuments of the Divine Hair around the hill Tambagutta, together with the nats governing the earth and space, and all rational beings throughout the universe utter praises and accept the supplications.’

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