Bronze Kundika with Lidded Spout
12th Century, Goryeo Dynasty
Height: 14 in (36 cm)
The kundika, (Korean: chong-byong) was a flask characteristically held by Avalokitesvara (the Bodhisattva of Compassion) containing the nectar of compassion. Originally an Indian ritual vessel, the kundika became a standard Goryeo Dynasty vessel type. It occurred frequently in celadon porcelain as well as in bronze. Since extant examples owe their survival to having been deposited in tombs, Korean kundika either had a symbolic function in connection with the spirit world, or they had become secular luxury items as well as ritual vessels.
In its Buddhist context, a kundika contained water, the symbolic nectar of life. The water was poured through the vessel’s tubular finial and refilled through the covered spout on its shoulder. The faithful worshiper was enjoined to become a receptacle for the Buddha’s Doctrine in the same way that the kundika was a receptacle for the water of life. In the Far East, paintings of Avalokitesvara sometimes depict a kundika holding a willow branch. Avalokitesvara used this willow branch to sprinkle the nectar of compassion onto his worshipers.
The filling spout of this kundika has an intact, hinged caplike lid. The graceful, elegant lines of this kundika seem entirely appropriate to its use in stately Buddhist rituals. The surface of the bronze was originally polished bright, but has developed a handsome gray-green patina from burial in a tomb.
Asian Art Museum of San Francisco
The National Museum of Korea