The Festival of the Sun also known as the Inti Raymi in Quechua is a religious occasion of Inca Empire celebrated in the honor of the Sun God, Inti.
The Sun God was the most revered God in the Inca religion. This day marked the Inca New Year and celebrated the winter solstice which is the shortest day of the year. This festival is celebrated every year in the last week of June in the highlands of Peru, South America.
Large number of tourists from all over the world visit Peru every year to be a part of this ancient religious festival. Though the celebrations take place at various places in the highlands of Peru, the most popular or well known celebration is the one that takes place in Cusco, which was the medieval capital of the Inca Empire.
This Pagan festival had started six centuries back and is celebrated till date in the honor of the Sun God. In this festival, people worship the Sun God and thank him wholeheartedly for good harvest of the year and pray for the land’s fertility.
As the legend goes, this festival was started by the ruler of the Inca Empire, Pachakutik. He had ordered his men to build a temple right in the middle of the city in the honor of the Sun God, Apu Inti. He had named this temple Qoricancha. The Incas believed that they were the direct successor of the Sun God Inti and within the walls of this temple they showed their gratitude to him for their existence on this planet.
In the present day this temple is one of the main tourist attractions in the city. Garcilaso de la Vega, who was considered to be the first Peruvian mestizo and the great historian or chronicler, had given a detailed account on this ancient temple. In his writings he had said the temple protected the embalmed bodies of the Incas sitting in front of golden tables and on golden chairs. He had also mentioned that the festival of the sun was one of the four important festivals held in Cusco during that period and the celebrations lasted for 15 days.
During these days sacrifices, dancing, musical performances and various other events were carried out. Until 1535, this ceremony was headed by the Inca Emperor after which it was banned in 1572 by a Viceroy of Spain due to its Pagan characteristics. It again revived in the year 1944 as an effort to protect the culture and tradition of Peru.
Present Day celebration-
Every year more than 200,000 people take part in this festival on 24th June celebrated in Cusco. The festivity includes worshiping the Sun God, beautiful dances, colorful parades, performances by more than 800 actors and feasting on famous Peruvian cuisines.
It is also an ancient belief that even if the day of the celebration is cloudy; the sun is bound to come out during the celebrations. In ancient times people used to sacrifice Llamas to appease Inti’s wife who was considered to be the Goddess of harvests and fertility. Today no such sacrifices are carried out and an actor, who portrays the Emperor, Sapa Inca, is carried in a golden chariot to the edifice located on top of the hills. However this chariot is just a replica of the 60kg gold chariot.
On reaching the hilltop, speeches and lectures are delivered in the Incan language, Queachua, as people wait for the fake sacrifice.