Peru’s ancient city of Cusco has started to prepare for the festival of Inti Raymi, the Festival of the Sun God, the most significant and spectacular of Peru’s historical celebrations.
Every June 24th, the day of the winter solstice, the people of Cusco stage an enormous celebration of the sun, which was the main deity to Peru’s ancient Andean civilizations, including the Inca. Inti Raymi is the largest traditional festival in Peru, and an unforgettable cultural experience for all, which revolves around a modern interpretation of the historical celebrations of the Sun God.
Celebrating Inti Raymi in Cusco
Thousands of people crowd to watch the opening event, held in the shadow of the Monastery of Santa Domingo. From here begins a procession of hundreds of representatives from the four corners of the Inca Empire, all in regional and traditional dress which reflects the diversity and size of the Empire.
As the procession continues, you will become entranced by the colors and variation of the participants’ attire and accessories. As the final representatives file in, the anticipation for the Inca King to finally show starts to build.
A cloud of smoke appears followed by the grand entrance of the King himself. At this point the crowd falls so silent it’s possible to hear a pin drop. The King delivers a short but expressive speech in the indigenous Quechua language before lifting his staff to commence the festivities.
The atmosphere fills with rejoice and music and dancing takes over. The crowd goes wild and the procession begins its march to a more celebratory beat, this time leaving for Cusco’s main square, the Plaza de Armas. The Inca King, along with his Queen and Nobility are carried by dozens of porters on separate, elaborately decorated golden litters.
The crowds quickly move the few blocks to the plaza to find a good place to watch the second segment of the festival. The procession files in and decorates the already beautiful square with dancing and marching in tune followed by the Inca King. He dismounts his litter and blesses the sacrificial gifts that are to be offered to the Sun God in thanks for a good harvest and to pray for good fortune and climate in the coming year.
The tradition of sacrifice and making offerings was extremely strong in ancient Andean civilizations with all sorts of gifts offered to the deities, ranging from inanimate objects such as tools, gold and art, to livestock and even sometimes human sacrifice. These days, symbolic items are used in place of living creatures, and visiting tourists need not worry about unexpectedly finding themselves on the altar.
The procession then continues the roughly three kilometers to the grand hilltop ruins of Sacsayhuaman, where the main event occurs. Here the Inca King and his nobility mount a platform to conduct the ritual sacrifice of a llama and to present gifts of gold and silver to the Sun God. Again, these days the actual sacrifice is a dramatized reconstruction and no creatures are harmed.
However, despite the reconstructions, the ritual is conducted in all sincerity and religious devotion, and is taken incredibly seriously by worshippers, who observe a deep connection with the spiritual world of Peru’s indigenous civilizations.
Fortunately for foreign visitors, it is possible to observe the entire ceremony with the accompaniment of a professional tour guide, on hand to interpret and translate the entire proceedings and explain the significance of each element of the ceremony.
My personal experience of the festival of Inti Raymi in 2008 was one of the most inspiring and fascinating cultural encounters of my life, and I highly recommend the festival to any visitor fortunate enough to visit Peru during this spectacular event.
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