A team of Myanmar divers claims to have supposedly found a legendary bell in the depths of the Yangon river in the latest twist to a 400-year-old drama that has gripped the nation.
Dozens of divers, with goggles and oxygen hoses, have dived into the rapids in search of the long-lost Dhammazedi bell, in a drama that attracted lines of spectators along the riverbank since the search began earlier this month.
The group is the latest in a series of treasure hunters eager to try to raise the near-mythical giant bell, which is said to have sunk without trace after being stolen from Yangon's revered Shwedagon Pagoda by a Portuguese mercenary, Filipe De Brito e Nicote .
Filipe de Brito e Nicote, a Portuguese warlord and mercenary known as Nga Zinka to the Burmese, had arrived in Lower Burma sometime in the 1590s.
De Brito had declared independence from the Arakanese king in 1603 and established Portuguese rule under Aires de Saldanha, Viceroy of Portuguese India.
In 1608 De Brito and his men took the Dhammazedi bell from the Shwedagon Pagoda and sent it down Singuttara Hill to a raft on the Pazundaung Creek. From there, the bell was pulled by elephants to the Bago River. The bell and raft were tied to de Brito's flagship for the journey across the river to Syriam, to be melted down and made into ships cannons, but proved to be too heavy causing the raft to break up. The bell then purportedly sank to the bottom, with de Brito's ship.
"After asking permission from all noble persons and saints, we definitively declare that we have found the Dhammazedi bell," said a statement from lead organiser San Lin.
He has not so far provided any proof.
Organisers are said to have rejected hi-tech equipment and practising spiritual practices including performing rituals on their ships in the centre of the river to appease dragon spirits said to be protecting the bell.
San Lin says he originally saw the bell on the riverbed during a 1998 salvage attempt and has received funding from a local private bank, vowed to lift the bell from the water within days.
The Dhammazedi bronze bell is said to have weighed 294 tonnes about the weight of a Boeing 777.
It is believed to be the largest bell ever cast. It was cast on 5 February 1484 by order of King Dhammazedi of Hanthawaddy Pegu, and was given as a present to the Shwedagon Pagoda of Dagon (today's Yangon, Myanmar)
While no definitive proof has yet been uncovered of the bell's existence, the search operation has garnered a following of hopeful supporters.