Before the 1532 Spanish invasion of Peru, the Andean culture celebrated and honored the Sun each winter Solstice season with a festival over many days. The Spaniards subsequently suppressed the Incan native culture and strived to instill substitute celebrations such as St John’s Feast. My explorations in South America revealed that the Peruvian people quite skillfully integrated some of their native traditions with those imposed by their conquerors. Today they display a modern blend of the two cultures.
During the mid-20th century, Cusco’s artisans and intellectuals decided to resurrect the beloved ancient festival theatrically known as Inti Raymi. In 1996 the restored production played for an outdoor crowd of thousands. There were countless local and regional South American citizens amassed with others who came from all parts of this planet. I was privileged to squeeze into the stadium-type seating and to witness it all first-hand. English speakers received programs citing the gist of the production in their native tongue. (The story as told here is extracted from the printed guide and personal memory banks.)
Excitement was palpable as people pressed together in tight rows. Bodies of all ages, genders, and cultures were gathered as far as anyone could see. Many more without seats stood on the fringes around the Temple of the Sun inside the arena’s perimeter.
Around 10 a.m., a sacred Conch shell trumpeted time to begin. Immediately Andean musicians with drums and wind instruments lead the procession into the open arena with great flourish. Behind them streamed a colorful cast of hundreds dressed for their respective roles.
There was a Master of Ceremonies attended by Royal Guards in bright red uniforms and followed by an equally colorful Imperial Army.
Ceremoniously then, a Princess with Flower Bearer attendants arrived, paving the way for other levels of nobility. What a spectacular sight!
Once everyone found their designated places, the music shifted to direct attention toward the southwest sky to gaze upon the Sun. All players chorused the following chant:
My Sun! My Father!
With great joy we salute you
Basking in your great Light.
My Sun! My Father!
My Sun! My Father!
You give strength
To the whole world
Sharing with us your warmth.
My Sun! My Father!
A reading of sweet coca leaves ensued immediately afterward, which indicated a “serene and confident” time of blessings for all present.
Then Cusco’s Mayor arrived to signal the official beginning of several hours of festivities. Finally, the real story began to unfold.
The main ceremony portrayed joy and hope as they acknowledged that the “will of the Father Sun” be revealed to each region represented. (NOTE: This only recounts a few hours of experience and is heavily edited. For additional information, it is suggested that online resources may offer the best up-to-date info for 2021.) To receive such crucial direction from Father Sun, everyone expectantly awaited Lord Inka’s arrival, the Father’s divine, and beloved Son. His entry was followed by representatives of each of the four regions who joyfully danced into view and took their respective positions in the four directions.
Now everyone was poised to hear the traditional creation story. This creation rendition reveals that a man and a woman were put in this land to begin a great empire. They then came together to produce children and more children in kind to arrive now to be blessed with prayers for happiness.
Gratitude gifts were offered individually by region leaders who requested to know the “state of life” for their people. If the future suggested spoiled crops and bad weather, there followed the imploring of better days to prevent fighting between regions for resources.
Fighting between regions was then demonstrated by armies’ re-enactment until finally, the fighting ceased, and there was a restoration of unity and harmony. The children danced in happy celebration until exhausted.
Royal regional dignitaries flanked Lord Inka as he climbed high and held up a large urn, and offered a tribute to the Sun: “Oh lord, Father Sun! I drink to you with this sacred chicha, made by your chosen women. It is a foamy brew of the golden corn and the eye of the sweetest chica. (Chicha is made from dried purple corn and fruit with spices.} Let it flow from this usnu (Usnu refers to all the crops harvested.) to your mansion, the Intikancha, to slake your thirst so that you may cast greater warmth on our Mother Earth so that she may bring forth fine maize and abundant potatoes, may our harvests always be good and may hunger disappear among your children. Oh Father, lord Sun!”
He then poured the contents into an earthen jar connected to a golden channel that carried the liquid all the way into the Temple. When confirmed that the liquid had entered the Temple, he cried out to the people: “Be joyful! Be joyful! Our offering has reached the Sun and his heart is full of kindness! …Let us all drink with him.”
The rituals of gifts to Father Sun continued using Sacred Fire, Sacrifice of Llama (In this case, not a real animal sacrifice but a symbolic Llama.) and harvested food of the highest quality. Lord Inka stood on one leg as he swung the raised leg side to side and tapped with the other foot to keep time to the music. He observed and approved as the dancing and jubilation brought the festival nearer to conclusion.
Lord Inka meditated for a bit then spoke to Father Sun, “…receive these offerings as a token of gratitude for the happiness you have placed in our hearts…” He then directed people, “never forget this day and to always be joyful- from the priests to the children; from the warriors to the teachers; from the elders to the chosen women…let everyone come together with one voice that may be heard through all the empire and to all four regions. Long live our Father the Sun!
The crowd exploded to their feet with loud applause showing enthusiastic appreciation. The musicians increased volume until everyone heard a sound akin to thunder and a final declarative blast from the conch trumpet.
Slowly, the crowd moved as everyone found a way out. The joy I felt then rekindled via the telling of the experience. The joy was not only because I witnessed such a spectacular event but was also due to the recognition that this ancient culture has reclaimed its lost heritage in a way that is acceptable to the current and primarily Catholic population.
Wanda Gail Campbell
Wanda has served thirty-plus years as a healthcare professional. Currently, she serves as a Minister of Peace ordained by The Beloved Community. In July 2007 she completed her Ph.D. in Philosophy focused on Intercultural Peacemaking. For her own spiritual nourishment, she enjoys reading both contemporary and ancient spiritual writings.