The most important festival of the Inca Empire: The Inti Raymi

Every year on June 24th, the great Inti Raymi takes place in Cusco. This is the biggest celebration of the SunGod Inti since the Inca times.

Festival – A Series of Religious and Traditional Events

A Festival is an organized series of events celebrated by a community. The world is surrounded by diverse religions, ethnicity, and culture, traditions, norms, and values which are followed by a segment of society each of them distinctive from others.

A Festival is a celebration marked with a gathering of people along with feasting, ceremonies, music concerts, dancing, poetry, and photography. A large number of festivals are observed by different communities all over the globe.

Peru is a nation with rich and special cultural events. Inti Raymi is one of the most engrossing, worthy, traditional, and religious festivals celebrated in Cusco.

What is Inti Raymi Festival?

Inti Raymi – Festival of the Sun is a religious ceremony held in honor of God of the Sun. It is considered the most significant ceremony amongst the four ceremonies of Cusco.

According to Inca tradition, The Inti Raymi was created by the Inca Pachacútec in 1430 AC to celebrate the first day of New Year in the particular Inca calendar. It is a religious celebration of the Incan Sun King (most revered god in Inca religion), Inti, and Pachamama, Mother Earth.

24th of June – the shortest day of the year, celebrates the Inca Festival of the sun during the winter solstice of the southern hemisphere. On this day sun is farthest away from Earth and people start celebrating this to keep the memory alive.

Approximately 25,000 people, including actors, dancers, and musicians – typically dressed well, perform different activities outside the Coricancha complex, Sacsayhuaman, and in the Plaza of Arms of the city.

There are many speeches delivered during the festival spoken in Quechua, an ancient Incan language. Quechua is a unifying and widely spoken language in Peru. It is one of three official languages in Peru.

During Inca Times:

During Inca times thousands of people and empires used to gather at Haukaypata at night before the night of celebration, waiting for the appearance of God Inti in a very respectful way and when the god ascended between the mountains, the settlers thanked him for the prosperous New Year harvest. The Sapa Inca, nobles, and priests would gather to witness a parade in Haukaypata. Ancestral mummies wrapped in cloths were brought from temples and shrines. About 200 llamas would be sacrificed and Haukaypata ran with sacred blood and plentiful chichi. The festival took place from dawn to dusk.

In 1572, the Inti Raymi came under gross criticism. The public, especially the older segment of the society was split about the festival for being too staged. It was prohibited and banned by the Spanish viceroy Francisco de Toledo because it was considered a pagan ceremony and contrary to the Catholic faith. But later on in 1944, Faustino Espinoza Navarro recovered this traditional event and carried out a historical reconstruction. Since that date, the festivity has become public again and attracts thousands of tourists each year.

Inti Raymi Today:

Inti Raymi is still celebrated with all of its majestic glory without the procession of mummies and only one animal is sacrificed during the day of celebration.
Every year on June 24th the festival of the Inti Raymi takes place in the city of Cusco. The celebration of the festivals begins in the morning on the large open cancha at the front of the Inca Temple of sun. As the representatives arrive from Qollasuyu, Kuntisuyu, Antisuyu, Chinchaysuyu (the four suyos of the Inca Empire) the Sapa Inca open the festivities and praise the god. The attendees then continue a short distance to the Plaza de Armas to witness the contribution of Inti Raymi.
The Inti Raymi ceremony is a 9-day long celebration that revolves around the sun’s worship. The nine days long religious festival took place in the main plaza in the city of Cusco, known then as the Haukaypata.

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. A priest then stepped into the temple and light up a flame. All these rituals were accompanied and graced by dances, sounds of shells, and musical instruments. Men and women painted their faces. It is said that Betanzos children under ten years old were brought from the four Suyus and were sacrificed. Black llamas were cut open with a ceremonial knife known as Tumi, their organs observed to predict the future and then incinerated.

Subsequently, everyone in Santo Domingo Church at Qurikancha begins the nine-day-long ceremony. Actors used to play the roles of the Sun King and his wife, Mama Ocllo most importantly.

The final part of the re-enactment is played in Sacsayhuaman – the ancient archeological site. The Sun King delivers a speech praising the sun before being carried by pallbearers with woven masks in a golden chariot to the ruinous temple of Sacsayhuamán. Sapa Inca addresses the pallbearers with different attires, one dressed as a snake to represent the underworld, one dressed as a Puma to represent earthly life, and another dressed as a condor that represents the heavens. Surrounded by thousands of locals and tourists, the Inca delivers his speech in Quechua before the faux sacrifice of llama and the faux heart is held up to Pachamama (Motherland) to ensure the next crop harvest.

A common public follows the chariot, with actors playing the roles of Incan nobles and priests. Local women showered exotic flowers at the festival path and sweep the route to keep it free of evil spirits. There were special dances, coca leaves were read and then burnt in abundance.

The festival is at its end when the air fills with the sound of horns, drums, and other instrumental sounds. The sunsets, a bonfire is lit and the ceremony concludes with the procession returning to Cuzco with the Sun King and his wife carried back upon their chariot.

Inti Raymi – A Cultural Heritage

The Incas are successful in their expression and exposure to modern and ancient art. Despite the creeping in of globalization, Incas have successfully preserved and developed their proud culture.

On March 2, 2001, the joyful religious Inti Raymi festival was declared as the cultural heritage of Peru. The festival is an extensive and diverse combination of traditional indigenous styles. Currently, it is managed and organized by the Provincial Municipality of Cusco.

Why should you visit the Festival of the Sun?

Celebrated in the city of PERU – Cusco is a star of attraction for history buffs for its culture, museums, archeological sites, natural diversity, and extremely polite people.

On 24th of June thousands of national and international tourist walks through the fascinating and historic streets of Cusco, to witness the worth of Inti Raymi. It is a religious festival, not only observed by the people of Cusco rather observed by the Andes population and thousands of tourists from all over the world.

You will be happy to listen that no more sacrifices are made in this festival. It is just an important time to celebrate Peruvian music, perform authentic folk dances wearing colorful outfits with bright embroidered skirts, jewelry, and weavings to metal and stone carvings. Some locals wear beautiful animal costumes including snakes. Tourists attend it with great zeal and fervor.

Nowadays the festival draws thousands of local and international visitors to Cusco to celebrate the most important festival on the calendar.

How Can I Visit?

There are two ways to enjoy the Festival of Sun. Either you can reserve the seats with beautiful views or stand in the crowd. Standing with locals gives you a better understanding of the significance of this event.
Some of the spots to approach the festival are:
• Qurikancha,
• Plaza de Armas
• Sacsayhuaman.

At Quirikancha:

Although no official seating here for viewing the festival, there are plenty of standing rooms that you can utilize to observe the festival that itself takes place in the gardens just outside of the temple with mesmerizing and fascinating views.
All you need is to arrive early for the best views and a wonderful beginning!

In Plaza de Armas:

Though cordoned are off for the festivities, you’ll still find space around the colonial arcades to view the enthralling ceremony. Due to the limited space in the plaza, you just need to be prepared to stand in crowds.

If you plan to view Inti Raymi then arrive at a pre-booked table at a local cafe or restaurant, balcony, and other best vantage points.
Enjoy the drink, and watching from there!

At Sacsayhuamán:

Locals who cannot afford high pricing choose to watch Inti Raymi from two hills that overlook the festivities. The best and well effective way to watch the ceremony is to book through a local guide and enjoy; grandstand seating which is sold on a priority basis or you can join local Peruvians and view the festival from two of the local parks.

Be warmed and prepared for crowds and bring everything you need for the day, with plenty of food, water, and sun protection!

First come first served!

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