A celebration of identity, unity, pride and heritage.
As the world around us becomes increasingly high-tech, and scientific fact becomes the central pillar of our society, it’s comforting to know that there are still places that take time to pay homage to our primordial past, particularly those that allow us to suspend our belief and give into magic and mythology.
For one such experience, there is Inti Raymi, a celebration worshiping the Incan god Inti. It takes place toward the end of June each year in the Andean villages of Peru, Bolivia, Argentina and Ecuador, where crowds gather to celebrate and show gratitude for the bounty of the earth with a variety of colorful traditional rituals. Inti Raymi, means Festival of the Sun or the sun’s resurrection. If its magic and mythology you’re looking for, you’ve come to the right place.
It makes perfect sense to worship the sun. After all, what is the true source of life-giving energy on this planet but the sun? It helps plants grow, like the hundreds of different types of nourishing Andean potatoes. Sun-nourished green, leafy life forms give us air to breathe and feed grazing animals like llamas, which are perhaps the coolest creatures on the planet. That many cultures actively praise this life-giving behemoth of scorching gas is a testament to the undiluted awe our ancestors felt upon seeing the sun. The Incans were sun masters as they built their temples ever closer to the sun and their festivals are a lasting tribute to that fireball in the sky.
Hundreds of thousands of devotees descend on Cuzco, Peru for the re-enactment of this ceremony, to praise the Inca and to celebrate traditions. A week’s worth of festivities culminates in an epic daylong event on the 24th of June. Inti Raymi recalls a time when it was thought that only through fervent prayer, devotion, and sacrifice that the sun could be persuaded to return and bless us with crops and fine health.
During Inti Raymi, members of the indigenous communities go to local springs, rivers and waterfalls to undergo ritual spiritual purification, which they believe results in a renewal of energy and a strengthening of their relationship with Mother Nature. In Otavalo, this ritual takes place at midnight in the nearby waterfall that is considered to be sacred.
As part of the celebrations, lively music accompanies dancers who are led by the Aya Uma – a mythological character believed to be the spirit of the mountain. A respected member of the community will play the part of the Aya Uma, by wearing a mask with two faces (representing day and night), and with twelve horns (representing the twelve months of the year). Stamping their feet to encourage Mother Earth to be rejuvenated for the new agricultural cycle, the dancers go around in circles which represents the two equinoxes and two solstices that take place annually. Musicians in the center of the circling dancers play music which represents the life-giving power of the sun, while the fruit carried by performers is an offering made to Mother Earth in gratitude for the harvest.
Inti Raymi is also a celebration of reclaiming an indigenous identity which had been lost for a period of time. It opens an opportunity for indigenous people to stand together and be proud of their heritage, and proud of whom they are today.