Post written by Mia, a United Planet Team member.
The Sun, the center of our Solar System, has been keeping us warm, giving us light and supporting life on Earth for millions of years. Its presence causes day and its absence, night. It’s no wonder that for many ancient cultures the sun represented a supernatural phenomenon, something that was there to be worshipped. The Inca, some might say, practiced one of ancient civilization’s most ornate sun worship rituals.
Incan culture was based on a profound connection with nature. This relationship was celebrated through religious rituals and ceremonies demonstrating the Inca’s appreciation to the Sun God for providing them with sustenance. Thought to be the beginning of the Sun’s new year, The Inti Raymi, or Festival of the Sun, takes place on Winter Solstice (June 24) and is one of the most important celebrations of the year.
Around this time of year, the cobblestone streets of Cusco fill with thousands of tourists and colorful scenery, as the city prepares for the ceremony. Folk dancers, street vendors and other exhibitions overtake the city’s ruins and public plazas in anticipation of the main attraction, the Inti Raymi ceremony.
It’s been more than sixty years since the re-creation has taken place in Cusco’s central plaza, now known as Plaza de Armas. The main ceremony of Inti Raymi is now practiced on the Saqsaywaman fortress, a hilltop complex of ruins overlooking the city of Cusco. Personally, I think the location could not be more perfect. The huge stone ruins, carefully placed together over 500 years ago during the height of the empire, cause such an impression to the visitor that you could only expect that an ancient Inca ceremony was meant to be re-created there.
All in all, approximately 500 actors proudly take part in bringing the past alive. For the representation, El Inca (the Incan Emperor, originally claimed to be a direct descendant of the Sun God), his wife and followers dress in traditional costumes and give speeches in their native language, Quechua. The participants dance in the most vibrant clothes; perform a simulation of animal sacrifice (which originally served as an offering to the Sun God), and a group of princesses and soldiers lead the colorful procession of back to Cusco.
Little is really known about the details of the Inti Raymi celebration, and most of what we see today is pieced together from archaeological findings, and of memories and practices that have been passed on from generation to generation to keep the local traditions alive. As Quechua is not a written language, there is no record of how the rituals were originally practiced. I think it’s important for future generations to understand the origins of their culture, respect its values, and be proud of who they are.