Divers stand on the edge of a small wooden fishing boat gazing at the murky, choppy waters below.
After receiving blessings from Buddhist monks, they lower their masks and plunge one-by-one into the mighty Rangoon River, clinging to garden hoses that will act as primitive breathing devices during their dizzying descent into darkness.
From the shoreline, thousands of spectators look on, some peering through binoculars, praying the men will find what other salvage crews have not: the world’s largest copper bell, believed to have been lying deep beneath the riverbed for more than four centuries.
Weighing an estimated 270 tons, the mysterious bell is a symbol of pride for many in a nation of 60 million that only recently emerged from a half-century of military rule and self-imposed isolation.
And for the first time, search crews are largely relying on spirituality rather than science to try to find it.
Burma’s superstitious leaders have in years past been part of a colourful cast of characters who believe reclaiming the treasure is important if the nation is ever to regain its position of glory as the crown jewel of Asia.
It is a story of myth and mystery.
King Dhammazedi, after whom the bell was named, was said to have ordered it cast in the late 15th century, donating it soon after to the Shwedagon Pagoda, Burma’s most sacred temple which sits on a hilltop in the old capital, Rangoon.
The bell remained there for more than 130 years, when it was said to have been stolen by Portuguese mercenary Philip de Brito, who wanted to take it across the river so it could be melted down and turned into cannons for his ships.
With tremendous difficulty, his men rolled the massive bell down a hill and transferred it to a rickety vessel, which then sank under the weight.
Most people in Burma believe the bell is still lying deep beneath the riverbed, buried under layers of silt.