A bell of brotherhood

Writer: 
Aung Thu
Bell-founders come together from across Tampawady to cast amassive bronze bell at Sintaltike monastery. (Photo – EMG)

With the flames dancing in the windon a hot, dry summer night, the scorching casting pits are buzzing withover 300 white-clad foundry workers of all ages like a swarm of busy bees.

In fact, the men are toiling away in the pits at Sintaltike monastery in Tampawady, Mandalayto melt bronze for casting asacred gigantic bell.

When cast, the “Nate Buta Maha Thitala” bell will weigh in at around 10,000 viss (over 16,300 kilogrammes or 36,000 pounds) and be transported to where it belongs: Shwetaungsarr Pagoda in Dawei, a coastal town in Taninthayi Region. 

Bronze casting is a time-honoured tradition that has been passed down from generation to generation in Tampawady where it continues to flourish to this day.

 

Regarding bell casting as an auspicious occasion for merit-making, bell-founders from across Tampawady are selflessly pooling time and effort for this grand-scale bell-casting project that requires 32 casting pits.

“According to tradition, it is impossible forone man to cast a huge bronze bell that weights over 1,000 viss like this one on his own so bell-founders from Tampawady need to come together to help. They may nottalk to each other at other times, but they’re all working together in perfect unison especially in situations where it is difficult to work alone. This tradition dates back many centuries,” saysKo Aung who represents the Pyae Wa Myanmar traditional bronze casting industry as he orchestrates the frenzy in the pits.

While bell-founders are busy melting the reddish metal, other residents pitch in by serving food, tea, tobacco, and betel nuts in a dramatic display of generosity.

Before getting down to work, every bell-founder offersfood to the statue of Shin Upagutta, or a Buddhist arahant who is believed to protect worshipers from rain storms, floods and the wrath of Mother Nature. Through their prayer, they hope the statue will cause the rain to stop.

“When we are casting huge bells that weigh tons of viss, we need to cast them at the same time so there must not be rain. That’s why we’vebrought in the statue of Shin Upaguttato avert the rain,” said chief bell-founderAung Than Maw.

Modelled after King Tharrawaddy’s classic bell, which is housed at the Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon, the bronze bell will be 17 feet high, 11 feet thick and 7.6 feet in diametre. The bell will bear an image of Lawkanat, a peacekeeping spirit, and its handle will be embellished with images of dragons.

This is the third bronze bell casted by Tampawaddy residents since Myanmar regained her independence. The first bell – over 10,000 viss– was donated to the Global Vipassana Pagoda in Mumbai, India. The second bell weighed over 5,000 viss(over 8,150 kg or 18,000 lb), and is now located in Kamawut, Mon State. 

The workers invariably radiate warmth and kindness as they display collective responsibility. Perhaps it is the power of this human spirit that created the Mingun Bell, the third largest bell in the world and the biggest bell in Myanmar that weights 55,555 viss (90.71 kg or 199.99 lb).

As the night wears on, the flames in the pits have gone from yellow, green and red to blue signalling that the time is now ripe for casting to begin.

Shortly after the chief bell-founder has rapped out an order to co-workers to start casting, a group of foundry workers startspouringhot liquid metal from the casting pits into metal pots that are then carried by another group to amould tucked away in a pit. The liquid is then carefully poured into the bell mould.

The casting process drags on till dawn when the entire process finishes.However tired they may look, the workers are still beaming with pleasure.