Inti Raymi: A Story Telling About the Party of the Sun

Inti Raymi festival

Picture by: mijastrzebski

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Inti Raymi is by far the most important celebration in the Peruvian culture. It is for many the second most relevant festival in South America, just below Brazil’s Rio de Janeiro Carnival. It is a colorful and mesmerizing portrayal of an ancient ritual, a love letter to older, wiser generations. Find out all there is to know about Inti Raimy as we walk you through its origins, meaning, and history, as well as explain the modern steps of the festival and give you some recommendations if you are planning on joining the festivity.

When we think about Peru, it is impossible not to think about Incan culture in one way or another. The truth is that it represents a perfect example of what a diverse, rich culture is. From architectural wonders to traditions of skill preservation and a wide cosmovision, Incans are a folklore treasure.

Today we want to specifically talk about one of the most significant events in Latin America: The Inti Raymi Festival. It is a performance-based on an ancient ritual made by the Incans every winter solstice. Back then, it was called “Wawa Inti Raymi,” which could be roughly translated to The Party of the Infant Sun.

Praising the sun was a huge part of the Incan life. It was probably the most prominent deity in their cosmovision. Their living depended mostly on agriculture, and they believed that The Sun was responsible for good harvests. That’s why they made sure to thank him enough and to keep him happy.

The Inti Raymi is the favorite celebration of most Peruvians, and it is the most popular festival among tourists. Every June 24th, more than a hundred thousand people gather around approximately seven hundred actors. They dance, jump, and sing while feeling revitalized by the shining sun. They share their cultural ways with pride, love, and emotion, which produces a beautiful, harmonic atmosphere.

Picture by: Renny Gamarra

We want to invite you to the Sun’s yearly celebration, held in different zones in Cusco. But part of the magic of this festival comes with the knowledge and understanding of what you are seeing. The Inti Raymi is all about cultural love, but what is it there to love? What’s the story behind all of these dances? Keep reading and find out.

First celebrations

Being the Inti Raymi as old as it is, it becomes quite challenging to track down its origins in an exact way. It is believed that it started sometime around the year 1430, under orders of the Inca Pachacutec, ruler of the Tawantinsuyo Empire. Pachacutec has been credited to be that one emperor who ordered the construction of Machu Picchu, though it has not been confirmed.

We believe that the whole reason behind the original Wawa Inti Raymi was to preserve the union between the different communities that were part of the empire.

Monumental as it was, the Inca Pachacutec needed to make sure that they all felt part of the same group.

The praise of the Sun was also an important reason for the creation of this ritual. It was celebrated in the winter solstice, which was believed to be the beginning of a new natural phase.

The Incas firmly believed that the sun died that day only to be reborn as a stronger, more powerful version of it. That’s why it is called Party of the Infant Sun: they celebrated the new sun, the new beginnings, the new possibilities.

According to them, the sun would die and be born again every winter solstice, growing more powerful every time, until the end of the world as we know it.

The most important source about the Wawa Inti Raymi tradition was the Inca Carcilaso de la Vega, who published Comentarios Reales de Los Incas (Real comments from the Incans) and explained interesting details about the ritual.

As stated by de la Vega, the celebration started during the first hours of the morning. The Inca (the most prominent authority) and the curacas (those in charge of the different ayllus, smaller communities) would wait for the first sun rays while squatting and their arms pointing to the sky. When the sun was fully visible, the Inca would toast with two cups of chicha, one in each hand.

One of the cups, the one in the left hand, would be shared with his family. The cup in the right hand would be offered to the God Sun as it was poured into a gold vessel. That’s how the initial ceremony went on the Inti Raymi day.

The celebrations would then be moved to the Coricancha, the religious epicenter of the empire. All curacas would give their offerings brought from their lands to the God Sun. One cattle sacrifice would mark the tradition, and the meat was shared with the entire gathering.

This day was a significant one for the Incans. Not only it represented an offering for their most important deity, but it was also an act of togetherness. Everyone would work very hard, hand in hand, to make this a perfect day.

The end of Wawa Inti Raymi

Over a hundred years of Wawa Inti Raymi celebrations passed before the arrival of the first Spaniards in Peru interrupted their tradition. As the Spanish men arrived in the country and took over the place, their beliefs and rules would gain priority over those native to the area.

Since Catholicism was the way of living in the recently stated Spanish colony, the Wawa Inti Raymi ritual, among many others, was no longer acceptable.

Considering that, it was no surprise when the Spanish viceroy Francisco de Toledo forbid the beloved festival in 1572. The ritual was considered a pagan festivity and was against the Church’s beliefs.

This was, of course, not well received by the Incans. The celebrations continued clandestinely, but it was not the same feeling for the community, and it was not as big as it had been before, so it slowly faded into the dark

The beginning of a new era: the modern Inti Raymi celebration

The Incas are known for their diversity, ancient history, and their preservation power. There’s nothing more important for them than to ensure the transmission of their traditions to future generations. Their rebellious spirits became apparent when they continued performing the rituals even though it was forbidden, and that comes from a profound love for one’s identity.

That’s why it was not an option to let this vital event fade into nothingness. Incas knew it; it would have been like erasing part of their identities.

Based on what was written by de la Vega in Comentarios Reales, Faustin Espinoza brought back the Party of the Sun but renaming it Inti Raymi. It happened in 1944, and it was agreed to do it every June 24th.

Picture by: Mark Green

Nowadays, Inti Raymi is a theatrical performance based on the original ritual. There are dances, actors playing the roles, and musicians creating the atmosphere.

Source: Viajero72/depositphotos

Nowadays, it is celebrated in countries like Peru, Ecuador, Argentina, and Colombia. However, the biggest celebration happens in Cusco, the ancient empire capital, and takes place in the Coricancha, as it would 600 years ago. Small performances and offerings are done while bystanders gather around the actors. It starts very early in the day and lasts approximately 45 minutes to an hour.

Then, the crowd moves on to the Plaza de Armas, where the offerings continue, and the actors express their gratitude to the sun. These two first events are entirely free to the public; no tickets are needed.

Then, the most significant event starts at the Sacsayhuaman Fortress. It is a paid event, and it is the longest one. If you want to be a witness, you’ll have to buy your tickets online, days before the event.

Picture by: SL-Photography

Here, you can amaze at the beautiful representation done by the actors. It feels as if you were alive hundreds of years ago, witnessing an authentic Wawa Inti Raymi. You see how the Incans and the curacas offer their cattle to the sun, how they dance vigorously to express their gratitude. 

It is when La Ceremonia de la Coca (Coca Ceremony) starts happening. In the end, you feel blessed by the Incan shaman, who predicts a prosperous, successful year. Thousands of both tourists and locals could agree on the ritual’s beauty, as they share their positive feelings about the ceremony.

The truth is that the Inti Raymi works as a reminder of how ancient our history is and yet how connected it is with our present identity. It teaches us to hope, the importance of new beginnings, and the relevancy of being grateful and working with others. But most importantly, it is about being proud of our roots and refusing to let them be forgotten.

Tips to take into account when going to Inti Raymi

If you’re as seduced as us by the idea of being involved in this tradition, go ahead! Visiting Cusco during Inti Raymi is a wonderful idea, and we can assure you a perfect time. However, there are some things that you would need to know if you want to live the best experience possible.

Here are our recommendations for attending the Inti Raymi Festival:

  • Use sunscreen. Please consider that the festival’s whole purpose is to celebrate the Sun, so it is a protagonist here. Cusco is rather sunny, and you’d be walking a lot during the Inti Raymi. That’s why you should have your sunscreen with you.
  • Mind your hydration. For the same reasons mentioned above, you’ll be very prone to getting tired. Sun and long walks only equal to sweat, so staying hydrated is very important. Carry water with you at all times. It is preferable to use a Thermo bottle; avoid plastic ones.
  • Buy your tickets with time. Even though the first two events are free to the public, the biggest one isn’t. You’ll need to buy your tickets to enter. Inti Raymi is a trendy festival, so it is not recommendable to leave your purchase for the last minute. The tickets go around 180 and 240 USD, and some of them include meals, transportation, and other great benefits. To purchase your tickets, you can do it through your preferred travel agency or at http://intiraymi.net/.
  • Be aware of your surroundings. As we said before, since it is a very popular event, it leads to huge crowds. Peru is generally a safe place, but such congregations are an excellent opportunity for pickpockets. Try not to carry any valuable objects and to be aware of what’s happening around you.
  • Enjoy the moment! Experiences like the Inti Raymi do not happen every day. Enjoy what you see, feel the magic of the moment. Try and meet new people, discover new perspectives. Peruvians are amicable people and would gladly explain everything you don’t understand about the event. Be curious!

We deeply hope that we’ve made you want to experience the Inti Raymi and that we have opened your mind about this kind of celebration. Give it a try and see how much you will love to celebrate every culture. Please let us know in the comments what you think about Inti Raymi and whether you would like to go. And, please, if you’ve already been there, tell us everything about your experience!

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