Inti Raymi Festival

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Inti Raymi Festival (Inti Raymi Pageant, Sun Festival, Feast of the Sun)

Type of Holiday: Calendar/Seasonal
Date of Observation: June 24
Where Celebrated: Peru
Symbols and Customs: Golden Rod, Maize
Related Holidays: Winter Solstice

ORIGINS

The Inti Raymi Festival marks the changing of the seasons, which people in all parts of the world have honored since ancient times. Many cultures divided the year into two seasons, summer and winter, and marked these points of the year at or near the summer and winter solstices, during which light and warmth began to increase and decrease, respectively. In pre-industrial times, humans survived through hunting, gathering, and agricultural practices, which depend on the natural cycle of seasons, according to the climate in the region of the world in which they lived. Thus, they created rituals to help ensure enough rain and sun in the spring and summer so crops would grow to fruition at harvest time, which was, in turn, duly celebrated. Vestiges of many of these ancient practices are thought to have survived in festivals still celebrated around seasonal themes.

Inti Raymi is a WINTER SOLSTICE festival observed by the Incas in Peru. By the late fifteenth century their empire, which they believed lay at the center of the earth, extended along the Pacific coast of South America from northern Ecuador to central Chile. On the day of the solstice, the Incas would gather to honor Inti, their sun god, at the foot of the hill of La Marca, not far from where the equator is now known to be located. Just before dawn, the emperor and his entourage would go to a ceremonial plaza in central Cuzco, the empire's capital. They took off their shoes in deference to the sun, faced northeast, and waited for the sun to rise. When it appeared on the horizon, everyone crouched down and blew kisses in the sun's direction. Then the emperor lifted two golden cups of chicha, a sacred drink made of fermented MAIZE , and offered the cup in his left hand to the sun. It was poured into a basin that was designed to drain quickly. When the chicha disappeared, everyone thought the sun had consumed it. After sipping the chicha in the other cup, the emperor shared it with the others present and then proceeded to the CoriInti Raymi Festival

cancha or Sun Temple. A fire was lit in the temple's innermost shrine, a room lined with magnificent gold "sun discs," by focusing the sun's rays with a convex mirror. Animal sacrifices and other ceremonies followed.

Today the main celebration still takes place in Cuzco, where there is a special procession and mock sacrifice to the sun, followed by a week-long celebration involving folk dances, tours of archaeological ruins, and displays of South American Indian arts and crafts. Bonfires are still lit in the Andes Mountains to celebrate the rebirth of the sun, and the Incas burn their old clothes as a symbolic way of destroying poverty and marking the end of the harvest cycle.

The Incas also observed a SUMMER SOLSTICE festival, known as Capac Raymi, in December.

SYMBOLS AND CUSTOMS

Golden Rod

According to the Incas' creation myth, the first Incas were sent down to earth by their father, the Sun, to find the place where a golden rod he had given them could be plunged into the soil with one blow, indicating that the ground was good for planting. This mythical rod probably represents the vertical rays of the sun at noon on the solstice, when it stands directly overhead. The place where it sank into the ground was marked at first with a humble shrine, later expanded into the Temple of the Sun or Coricancha ("Golden Enclosure"). The Coricancha soon became a religious center and place of pilgrimage as well as a model for other sun temples throughout the vast Inca empire.

In 1600 Garcilaso de la Vega, the nephew of the eleventh Inca ruler, documented the existence of a sacred group of gnomons or sunsticks near Quito, which is located very close to the Equator, where the sun passes through the zenith at noon on the equinox. According to Garcilaso, this was the seat that Inti, the sun god, liked best, because he sat straight up rather than leaning to the side. The Incas observed the equinoxes by watching their gnomons until the sun bathed all sides of the column equally, and there were no shadows cast. Then they decorated the gnomons with flowers and herbs and placed the Sun's throne on top.

Maize

Maize (corn) and chicha (fermented maize drink) were specially prepared by a group of chosen women, referred to as the "wives of the sun," for the Inti Raymi Festival. Because maize was symbolic of the Sun's gifts, it was important to eat it during the Sun Festival. The maize used for the festival was grown in the garden of the Coricancha, and during major festivals like the Inti Raymi, maize plants made of gold were displayed there. Given the fact that the Incas' empire was situated primarily in high altitudes where frost and hail were common, it is not surprising that sun worship was so intimately connected to the growing of maize.

FURTHER READING

Eliade, Mircea. The Encyclopedia of Religion. New York: Macmillan, 1987. Heinberg, Richard. Celebrate the Solstice: Honoring the Earth's Seasonal Rhythms through Festival and Ceremony. Wheaton, IL: Quest Books, 1993. Henderson, Helene, ed. Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations of the World Dictionary. 3rd ed. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 2005. Leach, Maria, ed. Funk & Wagnalls Standard Dictionary of Folklore, Mythology & Leg- end. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1984. MacDonald, Margaret R., ed. The Folklore of World Holidays. Detroit: Gale Research, 1992. Shemanski, Frances. A Guide to World Fairs and Festivals. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1985.
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