Our only Father!
Source of Warmth,
Fountain of Happiness,
I salute you
With joy and I venerate you
On this, your great day.
God of Day!
Inti Raymi was one of the most important celebrations of the year for the Inka Empire. It is a celebration of the Winter Solstice and honors the sun god, Inti. Throughout the course of the celebrations, elaborate ceremonies and dances were performed to honor Inti and celebrate the mythology of the origin of the Empire and its people. Animal sacrifices were made to appease Pachamama (Mother Earth) and ensure good crops in the coming year. It was also a time for the Inca to hear reports from the four quarters of his vast empire.
The ceremony/celebration was started by Pachakutiq Inka Yupanki, the ninth ruler of the Incas, during his reign in the 15th century. The annual celebration of Inti Raymi continued for close to 100 years before being banned by the Spaniards and the Catholic church in 1535. The great writer Garcilaso de la Vega, son of a Spanish Conquistador and an Inka Princess, described the ceremonies of Inti Raymi in his writings, some of the only remaining written descriptions of the celebration. But the ceremony was lost to time for over 400 years.
In 1944, a man named Faustino Espinosa Navarro put on an historical reenactment of the ceremony, based on de la Vega’s descriptions. For the past 70 years, a reenactment of the ceremonies of the Festival of the Sun has taken place in locations throughout Cusco and at the Incan site of Sacsayhuayman on the 24th of June each year. This very important celebration is now more pageant than religious ceremony, but it is a way for the indigenous people of Peru to celebrate, maintain, and pass on their mythology and beliefs. It is now one of the most important festivals of the year in Cusco and the highlight of the festival season in June.
Two years ago, we landed in Cusco on the 24th of June, in anticipation of our Inca Trail Trek. We were required to be in town and check in with our outfitter in person several days in advance of our departure, in order to prove we were here acclimating for the trek. On the way to our hostel from the airport, our taxi driver told us that it was Inti Raymi that day, the Festival of the Sun. It was late in the day, but he said celebrations were still going on up on the hill, at an odd sounding place called Saqsaywaman (which sounds an awful lot like “sexy woman” when you pronounce it properly). Being dummies, we had no idea what he was talking about. We had planned our arrival around needing to be in Cusco a few days before our trek, not even bothering to check on what else might be going on in town while we were here. We had completely (obliviously) missed the most important celebration of the year by a few hours. We chalked it up to being newbie travellers and proceeded to enjoy our time in Cusco that week before heading out to start the Inca Trail.
Flash forward to this year. We made plans to come and live in Cusco for three months during the high season, to see what we thought of the town as a potential long term residence. You would think we would have remembered how we barely missed the Festival of the Sun two years back and would plan accordingly this time around. You would be wrong. We arrived on June 18th, once again completely oblivious to the fact that it was festival month here in Cusco and that Inti Raymi was quickly approaching. At least we didn’t miss it this time around, but with the popularity of the reenactment it is wise to buy tickets well in advance. Luckily, the Incan gods smiled down upon us and, at the very last minute, we were able to get tickets to the ceremonies.
And so, this year on June 24th at 6:30 in the morning, we found ourselves standing on a park bench at the base of Qorikancha, The Temple of the Sun, surrounded by hundreds of other onlookers, waiting for the first ceremony of the day to begin.
At 8 am, music started and people in dozens of different colorful outfits began to stream out of Qorikancha and assemble across the terraces and down into the park. These people represent the different groups from the Empire.
The Inka was the last to arrive. You could hear the hush across the crowd as the Inka himself strode out onto the esplanade and began to make his speech.
Oh Sun God, our Father! Mighty sun of eternal joy, source of warmth, beginning of all life! From this, your sacred house in Cusco, where you dwell with the Moon, Lightning, & Thunder, your children from the Empire of the Four Quarters salute you respectfully on this your day of celebration!
There was a bit more dancing and then the Inka calls on his people to travel with him to Haukaypata, the main plaza to meet with the High Priests for the Empire and also with the mayor of Cusco. The party then moves over to the Plaza de Armas. At this point, every spectator makes a mad dash to get a good spot over in the Plaza. If you’ve chosen to go to the ceremony at Qorikancha, you are pretty much not going to get a great spot for the ceremonies in the Plaza. And that is what happened to us. We ended up on the opposite side of the plaza from most of the festivities. Here was our view.
Once everyone is assembled in the Plaza de Armas, there is a ceremony where the Willaq Uma (the High Priest) reads the coca leaves to divine the will of the gods before the big ceremony at Saqsaywaman. Lucky for us, the gods were feeling favorable towards the Inka.
There is also a Meeting of Past & Present, where the Inka and the mayor of Cusco address each other and acknowledge that each needs the other to keep their people strong & thriving.
Inka: You, who now lead my city of Cusco, you see before you, reborn, the Inka, the child of the Sun and father of all these people! I have come to fortify with my words the strength needed by your honest arm, good heart, and wise head. And I tell you that only through the communal effort and the unity of all my people will all your difficulties be resolved., no matter how intractable they may seem. And so that you will not forget my words, I place in your hands this sacred khipu, the legacy of our fathers. In it are contained the three powers which give life to our people: Love! Wisdom! Work! Be the light which illuminates your good governance and the fate of our race! Do not forget my words!
Mayor: I swear that I will jealously guard this marvelous legacy and faithfully obey your commands. I promise, great lord, to keep watch over your people of Cusco, and to work tirelessly for their happiness.
Inka: People of Cusco! Now let us hurry to Saqsaywaman. Let us go together, like the single force that we are! Let us go now!
Then the Inka and his people head to Saqsaywaman in a large procession which, lucky for us, went right past where we were standing. So we ended up with some pretty good view of the Inka King and Queen and their people.
After the procession had left the plaza, we all ran for our buses, so everyone could head up to Saqsaywaman for the main event. While we sat on our bus waiting for the rest of our group, we dug into the sumptuous box lunch (really a bag lunch in a beautiful woven bag). When everyone was on board, we took off down the street, heading for the road to Saqsaywaman. And then we got stopped by a police roadblock, with nowhere to go and the clock ticking until the beginning of the major ceremony. Our guides, along with the guides of several other groups, got out to go talk to the police. And we all watched as they pleaded, argued, and begged for them to let us through. There are only so many ways to the top of the hill.