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Inti Raymi, The Celebration of the Sun

The Tradition

In Quechua Inti means Sun and Raymi celebration. Inti Raymi is the celebration of the God Sun, the most venerated god in Inca religion. According to Inca tradition, Pachatutec, the first Inca, created the Inti Raymi to celebrate the winter solstice which marked the first day of the New Year in the Inca calendar. The winter solstice begins on June 21st but according to the Incas, the sun stays in the same place until the 24th when it finally rises. Therefore, every year on June 24th the festival of the Inti Raymi takes place in the city of Cusco.

Historical reconstruction of the Inti Raymi

The Inti Raymi was prohibited by the Spanish during the first years of the conquest claiming that it was a pagan ceremony and not in compliance with the catholic religion, however, small ceremonies took place without major consequences. Later, during the colony, in 1572 Viceroy Francisco de Toledo officially banned the celebration along with many other Inca traditions; even wearing traditional Inca clothes was outlawed. These rulings took effect after a series of Inca rebellions such as the uprising of the last Inca ruler Tupac Amaru I who was executed along with his family and advisers.

According to Garcilazo de la Vega, the Inti Raymi was one of the most important celebrations in the Tawantinsuyo or Inca Empire. The celebrations lasted nine consecutive days and took place in the main plaza in the city of Cusco, known then as the Haukaypata.  Three days before the start of the celebrations the participants had to go through a purification period in which they had to fast and the only food allowed to eat was white maize and an herb called chucam. Participants of the ceremony were the Sapa Inca, the nobility and the Inca army. On the main day, June 24th, the Sapa Inca would step on a stage in front of the pilgrims and drink chicha de jora, a maize based drink, in honor of Inti. Inside the Temple of the Sun or Coricancha a priest would light up a flame. All these rituals were accompanied by dances and sounds of shells and musical instruments. Men and women painted their faces yellow and wore heads of deer whose antlers were used as musical instruments. According to chronicler Juan Betanzos children under ten years old were brought from the four Suyus and were sacrificed. Black llamas were cut open with a tumi, a ceremonial knife, their organs observed to predict the future and then incinerated. At the end of the celebration the Inca returned to his palace while women tossed red flowers and multicolored feathers.

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Historical reconstruction

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In 1944 the American Institute of Art in Cusco approved the celebration and Faustino Espinoza Navarro and a group of Amerindian actors reconstructed a theatrical representation of the Inti Raymi based on the chronicles of Garcilazo de la Vega. Since then, every year on June 24th residents and tourist attend the festival.

The celebration of the Inti Raymi starts at 8am on the main plaza of the City of Cusco in front of the Coricancha, the rainbow Inti Raymi flag is raised while a mass takes place in the cathedral. The first and second scenes take place on the main plaza where the Sapa Inca addresses the Sun in Quechua and thanks him for all his blessings. Afterward the Inca is carried on a throne and the procession moves five kilometers to the Fortress of Sacsayhuaman. There the Sapa Inca performs many rituals and sacrifices to thank the Sun for his generosity.

Recommended bibliography if you are interested in Peru or the Inca Civilization:

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