Phipps Conservatory Celebrates Diwali

Lighting up the Indian Tropical Rainforest

By Priya Ranganathan   e-mail:

Note:  Priya is a junior at the University of Pittsburgh majoring in Environmental Studies and Biology with a certificate in South Asian Studies.


Priya Ranganathan

One of Pittsburgh’s most beloved attractions—Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens—celebrated Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights, on October 25 from 7 to 10 pm in the India Tropical Rainforest exhibit.  The celebration showcased Indian dance, music, and most importantly, Indian food.

The atmosphere crackled with good spirits and excitement, with tiny lamps shining from in between the lush green leaves and behind flowers, and strains of Indian music wafting along the paths. With the fragrance of jasmine perfuming the air, the event attracted a diverse crowd: Indians, Americans, adults, college students, and children. “There was just a feeling of incredible joy,” said event coordinator Dr. Ritu Thamman, a Pittsburgh resident. Dr.Thamman also added: “This is a historic moment because Phipps has been around for so many years but this is the first time they are celebrating Diwali.”

The program began on time with dance recitals by youngsters from the Pittsburgh area. Among the performances were a set of Bharatanatyam dances by the senior students of Guru Jaya Mani of Slippery Rock. Other items were upbeat Bollywood dances, including students of the Guiding Star Dance Foundation based in Sewickley. Then lively Bollywood music serenaded guests as they walked among the flowers absorbing the ambience. Guests could sample the delicious food from Billu’s Indian Grill and get henna designs applied by members of Pittsburgh’s Indian community.  Diyas dotted every surface and hanging flower garlands and bright banners attracted the eye. Colourful tablecloths draped artistically over tables and across the walls of the hall created the feel of an Indian setting.

The guests at the event came away with a newfound understanding of and respect for one of India’s best-loved festivals. University of Pittsburgh sophomore, Stefan Poost, said: “It’s a very warm ambiance that makes me think of India.” While most of the guests were Indian, the non-Desi guests had a chance to learn about India and Hinduism. Additionally, event sponsor Andrew Watson said, “I’m impressed by the number of people watching the program… it’s a nice blending of two cultures.”

The Phipps Conservatory successfully created a forum fostering international awareness and appreciation that is important in our multicultural community here in Pittsburgh. Learning about Diwali, one of the most-widely celebrated festivals in the world, is one way for Pittsburgh to embrace its international flavor.  We hope that Phipps will continue to host such festivals in the years to come!   ♦

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