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Lights, food, family — and honoring brothers and sisters

The five-day celebration of Tihar, or Diwali, returns Denver Water treasurer to her roots.

Editor’s note: Diwali, a five-day festival of lights celebrated by Hindus, Buddists, Sikhs and Jains around the world, starts this year on Oct. 27. Just like our customers, Denver Water employees have diverse backgrounds, and we’re proud of our rich cultural diversity that reflects the 1.4 million people we serve.

Usha Sharma with her brothers, Bijaya Kattel (left) and Bheem Kattel (right), and Bijaya’s wife Archana Kattel. Photo credit: Usha Sharma.


As a girl growing up in Nepal, Usha Sharma remembers the lights and decorations that were hung throughout her family’s neighborhood for the celebration called Tihar, also known as Diwali.

“Lots of lights, just like Christmas here,” said Sharma, Denver Water’s treasurer who moved to the United States in 1986.

The five-day celebration, held during harvest time, focuses on family, light and knowledge. It’s one of the major holidays celebrated by Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs and Jains in Nepal, India and the surrounding region, and the last major holiday of the year.

Oil, water, colored powders, sweets, nuts and other food are laid out for the ceremony honoring siblings on the fifth day of Tihar, also known as Diwali. Photo credit: Usha Sharma.


The annual celebration occurs every year around the end of October and early November, with the specific dates based on the lunar calendar.

Different themes mark each of the five days, and each day is celebrated slightly differently depending on the region and culture.

But many parts of the five-day holiday focus on light’s victory over darkness, good over evil and knowledge over ignorance.

Sharma remembers joining other children — siblings, friends, cousins and neighbors — on the third day of the holiday to go from house to house singing songs and receiving candy, sweets or money.

“As a child, it’s super fun and exciting, visiting the homes of my uncles, aunts and neighbors,” she said.

Usha Sharma and two of her older brothers, Bheem Kattel (left) and Bijaya Kattel, after the ceremony honoring siblings on the fifth day of Tihar, also known as Diwali. Photo credit: Usha Sharma.


As an adult, she treasures the five-day holiday’s focus on honoring the family — particularly the fifth day, which is dedicated to honoring one’s siblings and wishing them prosperity and longevity.

The fifth-day rituals involve using oil and water to draw a protective circle around the siblings and putting tika, a colored paste, on each other’s forehead while giving them blessings. And there is food, family and fun.

“You make a point to be together and hang out with each other and enjoy the festivities,” said Sharma, who grew up with three older brothers.

One brother now lives in Highlands Ranch, a second in Florida, and the third brother lived in Australia until his death in 2008. The siblings have traveled to each other’s homes often to be together during the holiday.

“It’s a sacred time for brothers and sisters,” Sharma said. “You spent so much of your adult life with your husband or wife and other people around you, but this is the day for siblings. It’s that one day when you go back to your roots.”

The ceremony honoring siblings on the fifth day of Tihar, also known as Diwali. Photo credit: Usha Sharma.