It has an oval- or globular-shaped body, a tall neck with a small mouth separated by a circular flange and a cup-shaped spout (often with an attached lid) on the shoulder.
Although both vessels have two openings in the same positions, they function in reverse of each other.
Drawing after Sumarah Adhyatman, Chinese white-glazed porcelain kundika with a tall, narrow neck and a cup-shaped spout with two rings. Decorated with flying phoenix and cloud scrolls on the body, and a band of lotus leaves around the base of the neck and the lower body. At the other end of the spectrum, the kendi made of unglazed fired clay has a long, continuous history of use as a humble, utilitarian vessel that was ideal for its cooling properties and for its portability, such as carrying water when travelling from village to village or for a longer journey by boat.
Drawing after Sumarah Adhyatman, Chinese blue and white porcelain kendi with a bulbous body, tall, narrow neck, flange around the mouth and a mammary spout. The decorated ceramic form of the kendi even attracted the European market, and was depicted in Dutch and German still life paintings, and copied in Delftware.
Little evidence exists to support either the wide or extended use of the kundika in Southeast Asia; by the end of the first millennium its successor, the kendi, was the preferred form of spouted vessel.
The popularity of one type over the other is probably related to the different function of the vessels.
Decorated with peony scrolls on the body, a stylized floral motif and religious symbols on the spout, and a band of lotus leaves around the base of the neck and the lower body. The kendi is defined in this article as a vessel with a round body, tall neck, mouth, a spout on the shoulder and a flat base.
One scholar, at least, has challenged the idea of the kendi having an Indian origin. Modern black burnished earthenware kendis with a bulbous body that tapers to a narrow, flat base, a tall, straight neck, a conical spout and a lid. Archaeologists are re-investigating the ancient Indian-influenced site of Oc Eo in the Mekong Delta (today Vietnam) and the University of Hawaii/East-West Center and the Royal University of Fine Arts, Phnom Penh have conducted research at the site of Angkor Borei in Takeo Province, southern Cambodia since 1995.
Drawing on ethnographic, archaeological and religious data, she has questioned whether or not an etymological link is sufficient evidence to assume that the form itself originated in India. Both sites date from 100 to 550 and research shows that Oc Eo and Angkor Borei are linked by a network of canals.
Made of precious metal such as gold, silver or bronze, the kendi and its precursor, the kundika, appear in sculpture and painting as an attribute often held in a hand of the Hindu gods Brahma and Shiva, Maitreya the future Buddha and the compassionate Avalokitesvara (in Mahayana Buddhism).
Drawing after Sumarah Adhyatman, The kendi is a well-known form in the Southeast Asian repertoire of vessels, and it has played a significant role in the rituals and daily life of the region since ancient times.