Colombo, Sri Lanka

When crowds gather to celebrate Lourdes Feast in Kalutara and taste some ‘Bondi-aluwa’

By Gihan Perera, independent tour guide in Sri Lanka

Built on a small mountain facing directly towards the lagoon area of river ‘Kalu’ that falls into the Indian Ocean from the area of Kalutara, Holy Cross Church is also popular because of its ‘Our Lady of Lourdes Grotto’. The annual Lourdes Feast happens in mid February and the history dates back to 1908 on the year which this grotto was built next to this beautiful church located south of Colombo when you travel along the Galle road.

The feast is a colorful holy event that most of the Catholics in and around Kalutara would never want to miss. Crowds gather in large numbers to attend this ‘high mass’ which is followed by a traditional and cultural procession. Many school bands perform in this procession while two main Catholic educational institutes of Kalutara, the Holy Cross College and Holy Family Convent, would take the lead in Lourdes Feast procession that usually lasts till late hours of the day.

The carnival atmosphere around the Church set the stage for people coming from surrounding villages with their families and little children to enjoy the feast. The traditional sweetmeat sellers who put-up their temporary stall during this Church feast looks to be the most attractive among others who sell toys, caps and ornamental items.

Most of these sellers are older women wearing sleeved jackets with lace work, and even tend to speak the language as Portuguese did during their presence in yester year. They offer sweetmeats such as ‘Bibikkan’, a coconut cake and ‘Aluwa’ made of rice flour mixed with coconut treacle, which were Portuguese recipes introduced to this Island.

The famous ‘Bondi-aluwa’; rich halwa which is a very sweet confection and a popular serving across the Middle East, South Asia, North Africa, the Balkans and many others. Identical sweets exist in China and other neighboring countries as well. The word Halwa became ‘Aluwa’ in Sri Lankan terms and there are two types of such popular desserts or sweets; one is flour based and the other is nut butter based.

So, the traditions continue in the city of Kalutara as people would continue to gather during the ‘Lourdes Feast’ to get the blessings of ‘Our Lady of Lourdes Grotto’ and enjoy the happiness with others when they share the taste of ‘Bondi-aluwa’, simply with anyone in their neighborhood. If you happen to be in Sri Lanka during the month of February, don’t miss this opportunity to taste not just ‘Bondi-aluwa’ but the unique gestures of Sri Lankan hospitality which is mixed with a cultural event of this nature.


About Gihan Perera, independent tour guide in Sri LankaProfile image of tour guide Gihan Perera
Serendipity is the occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way – but it is interesting to know that Serendib was an Old Persian name for Sri Lanka. You will surely find happiness in your journey and on top of it, the local people would make you feel at home with their gestures in traditional hospitality and the warmth of smiling faces. Diverse opportunities for the explorer never end on this land and I would look forward to share the best of my experiences wi
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