These days, the Inca festival of Inti Raymi looks like some live performance where acting native Incans carry out entertaining rites in honour of Inti – the Sun god. But it didn’t always use to be like this. Several centuries ago, the Inti Raymi festival was serious business as long as Peru culture is concerned – it still is. At that time, thousands of Peruvians would gather to worship the sun god on the said days.
Legend has it that they would offer sacrifices before Inti, dancing in procession and worship of the deity for up to 15 days! The Inca people of the Amazon region of South America have a very rich cultural heritage that’s worth talking about on a global scale.
No doubts, they may not have set the pace in writing as did the Sumerians with their Cuneiform or the Egyptians with their hieroglyphics. And from what we know, Peru is not the cradle of civilization both in the stone age and in the industrial age.
However, their contributions to ancient history through religion is north of impressive.
In fact, other than the Roman and Greek gods and goddesses, the Peruvian culture boasts of what is arguably the most variety of deities among cultures which existed in its prime time.
But what is Inti Raymi without history?
A Walk Down Memory Lane
Pachacuti Inca Yupanqui is believed to be the Incan who instituted the Inti Raymi festival. He was one of Inca’s earliest Saps (Inca king) and one of the most influential one the empire saw in its golden era. This festival dates back to a time when worship of the Sun God was mainstream religion in the Andes.
It was specifically marked on the day of winter solstice or the days when it is expected. While this was the order of the day back in their day, it was perceived as a cultic, pagan practice by the Catholic Spanish who conquered the region in the middle 16thcentury.
This Peruvian culture would have faded into oblivion, no thanks to Catholic Spaniards who were determined to wipe it away from the surface of Peru.
Stories have it that devout practitioners continued to observe the festival in secret and in inconspicuous numbers.
Talking about the festival itself, it looks like this:
Days 1 – 3: Procession
The destination is the fortress of Sacsayhuaman passing through the Inca capital city of Cusco. On arriving a Sacasyhuaman, Inti priests would pray for the people after which they journey back to Cusco for the rest of the festival. Note that this procession begins at Coricancha, the golden temple of the Sun God Inti.
Day 4: Sacrifices
The ancient Incans were very generous to their gods in terms of offering sacrifices and Inti enjoyed nothing less.
Llamas, alpacas and a variety of animals available in the region were slain and offered in ritual prayers to the gods. It is said that if natural disasters such as drought, tornadoes and earthquakes, even human sacrifices would be made to appease Inti.
While this is basically done to give thanks for the year the past year, it also served as an opportunity to predict and possibly pray for a better new year ahead. After these sacrifices come sipping of chicha. Chicha is a maize-based beverage popular in the Amazonian region.
During this festival, the two goblets of chicha are prepared. One is reserved for Inti while the other is drank by the king and nobles – from the highest ranking ones to the lowest ranking one – sip-by-sip.
History may not be able accurately tell us all the details of the festival as it was done several centuries ago. But we do know that it was a big deal, and of symbolic magnitude. A good example of this is evident in a practice these ancient Peruvians carried out towards the end of the festivities of the Sun God, Inti.
They would literally extinguish every flame in every nook and cranny of their kingdom and rekindle them with a new one. This is done to mark a new beginning of light and good luck for the people while saying goodbye to the previous year.
Why the Inti Raymi Festival?
As loosely hinted at the beginning of this blog post, the Peruvian festival of Inti Raymi is no longer the savage ritual it used to be. In fact, it is more like a mobile circus waiting for you to come experience it.
Different groups, companies and organizations find a way to put up a show in the same theme but the idea is basically the same.
Actors would dress up in gorgeous costumes like ancient Incan people and relive very moment of the festivity just the way I used to be before the Spanish conquest. An exciting spectacle to behold.
In the June of every year, usually 21stto 24th, people from different parts of the world come together to experience the richness of culture that Peru proudly presents. On any day between June 21stand 24th,winter solstice of the Southern Hemisphere is expected to occur.
On this day, the Peruvian people as well as people in their region will get no more than eight hours of daylight as the sun will be farthest from the earth.
What a thrilling pleasure it will be to relive the Inti Raymi festival with Peruvian people and fellow tourists in a surreal atmosphere which makes it look like you made a time travel back to 1550!