Inti Raimi, Festival of the Sun, Winter Solstice
©1998 by James Q. Jacobs

This page consist of two parts. The first part includes photographs and notes about the modern Inti Raimi Festival held on the southern hemisphere's Winter Solstice every year. The later part of this page consists of information from chroniclers of the contact period and my translation of portions of Inca Garcilaso de la Vega's ethnohistorical account of the original Inti Raimi in prehispanic times.


The historic ceremony of Inti Raimi was reconstructed in 1944 for the first celebration of the 'Dia del Cuzco.' The theatrical play is an attempt to interpret that which occurred in the Incan epoch. The recreation is based on the available chronicles, which are not in exact agreement. The ritual was composed in his Native Quechua by Faustino Espinoza Navarro, who also played the Inca for many years. The present day event is held in the Saxsayhuaman amphitheater. The hillsides and the monument terraces surrounding the amphitheater fill with a vast crowd for this event. The event occurs on the morning of the Winter Solstice, as was the case in the prehistoric era. The reenactment portrays only the religious portion of the ancient nine day festival, its invocation, which originally began before sunrise on the solstice. The reenactment occurs later in the morning.

The entry procession into the plaza begins with groups representing the four parts of Tawantisuyu accompanied by background music. A total of 942 actors participate in the production. In this view the Inca's litter is passing along the plaza perimeter during the exit procession. The smoke is from the sacrificial fire. The flame derives from the annual New Fire, started with reflected sunlight.

This and the adjacent view are from the terraces of the Saxsayhuaman pyramid/monument. The adjacent view is the left side of the amphitheater, this is the right half. Note the number of people on the surrounding hillside. In this view the actors are in place for the lighting of the New Fire and the sacrifice of an alpaca (an enactment). The original festival was in the Huakaypata, today's Plaza de Armas. The recreated platform in this view represents the original, which is now buried under a Church. The original monolith was carved into various levels. This temporary platform is set up for the event, and is not real stone.

The reenactment recalls an impressive cultural past. It is also impressive that a community effort to keep alive Inca culture has resurfaced after so many centuries.

Sapan Inka Apu Tayta, Padre Poderoso y único Señor, the Royal Personage, the Lord of Tawantinsuyo, the Inca.

In this view the procession is exiting the amphitheater. The Saxsayhuaman monument's terraces are visible under a massive crowd in the background. Every effort has been made to recreate a pageant true to the original. Of course, in the original festival cups of pure gold and cloth woven from vicuña hair and gold thread would have been used. These treasures were lost in the conquest.

Parque Arqueológico de Sacsayhuamán

Saxsayhuaman Aerial Photograph.

The Saxsayhuaman stepped pyramid, topped with circular towers, is seen in the lower portion of the image. The building of colonial churches stripped the stones off the side facing the city of Cuzco (the very lowest portion of the image).

The 100m oval monument in the upper portion is the Rodadero.

The Inca Chair, or Suchuna, is near the Rodadero.



The chroniclers were Spanish authors writing for Spanish audiences, and Garcilaso de la Vega, while half Indian and the illegitimate son of an Incan princess, was raised a Catholic (albeit in Cuzco), became a minor cleric in Spain, and wrote for a Spanish audience in a time of severe censorship of all publications. The chronicler's reports are at best glosses of the actual Andean culture and world view. In many ways they tell us as much about the chronicler's viewpoint as the chronicler relates about his subject.

Molina wrote, in his Historia de los Incas, that the Incas invoked their mythical ancestors in their order of importance, beginning with the "Hacedor," the "Creator," called Viracocha and Pachacamac, followed by the Sun, then thunder, appealing to these for a continuation in vital force. "Oh Creator and Sun and Thunder, be forever copious, do not make us old, let all things be at peace, multiply the people and let there be food, and let all things be fruitful." (Hocquenghem p 148, my translation)

Cabello Valboa wrote in his Miscelánea Antártica that one hundred "Carneros" were slaughtered at the Inti Raimi. A great quantity of roughly hewn wooden statues were gallantly dressed and hung with flowers. The well dressed Indians and their leaders danced the Cayo to a great concert of music. The dressed wooden figures represented the ancestors and their migration from tambo pacarina. The solstical ceremonies were particularly dedicated to the mythical ancestors and remembrance of origins. Inti Raimi, the festival of the beginning of the year, commemorated the myth of the appearance of the ancestors, of creation. The festival actualized the myth of origin and supported the perpetuation of the ancestral order.

The remainder of this article is my translation of Garcilaso Inca de la Vega's Comentarios Reales de los Incas. His account is perhaps the best and certainly the most extensive, if not a comprehensive account, of the original festival. As can be seen, while the Raimi had a religious component, it was essentially a great festival, with many days of drinking, music and dancing.

"Of the four festivals which the Inca kings celebrated in the city of Cuzco, which was another Rome, the most solemn was the festival of the Sun in the month of June, which they called Inti Raimi, meaning the solemn resurrection of the Sun. They called it Raimi, which means the same.... they celebrated it when the solstice of June happened.

"They celebrated this festival to the sun in recognition for having the Sun and to adore the sun as the highest, only and universal God, which with its light and power creates and sustains all things on the Earth.

"And also in recognition for being the natural father of the first Inca couple Manco Capac and Coya Mama Oclla Huaco and for all the kings and their children and descendants, sent to the Earth for the universal benefit of the people, for these reasons the people held this festival as the most solemn.

"There were to be found at the festival the principal retired military captains and those not occupied with the militia, and all the governors, persons of vassalage, from the entire empire; not because they were obligated to attend, rather because they took pleasure to find themselves in the solemnity of such a great festival, which, embracing the adoration of the Sun and the veneration of the Inca, their king, no one missed who could attend. And when the governors could not attend due to old age or infirmity or due to pressing business in service to the king, or because of the great distance, they sent their sons and brothers, accompanied by their most noble relatives, that they be present at the festival in their names. The Inca would be found at the festival in person, unless impeded by war or on a royal visit.

"The Inca performed the most important ceremonies as highest priest, which, although there always was a high priest of the same blood, because he was not a brother or uncle of the Inca, among the legitimate offspring of the same father and mother, in this festival, being particular to the Sun, the Inca himself performed the ceremonies, as first-born son of the Sun to whom principally fell responsibility to solemnize this festival.

"The governors came with all their best court dress and inventions that there could be: some brought costumes covered in gold and silver, and wreaths of the same on their heads upon their headdresses.

"Others came more or less as Hercules is depicted, dresses in skin of lions. Others came in the manner in which angels are depicted, with large wings of a bird called a condor.... Others brought masks made of wood and depicting the most abominable figures that could exist, and they are called yuncas. They entered the festival making gestures and grimaces of fools, dunces and simpletons. For which they brought in their hands appropriate instruments, like flutes, poorly harmonized tambourines, pieces of skins, with which they were helped in making their foolishness.

"Other governors came with different contrivances in their heraldry. Each nation brought the arms with which they fought in wars; some brought bows and arrows, others lances, darts, spears, clubs, slings, and hatchets with short handles for fighting with one hand, and others long handles axes for fighting with two hands.

"They brought painted the great deeds which in the service of the Sun and the Inca they had accomplished; they brought large kettle-drums and trumpets, and many ministers who played them; in sum, every nation came as well driven and accompanied as they could, each endeavoring as much as possible to surpass their neighbors, those of their region and, if they could, everyone.

"They generally prepared themselves for the Festival of the Sun with rigorous fasting, such that in three days they only ate a little uncooked white corn and some herbs called chúcam and water. In this time they did not light fires in all the city and they did not sleep with their women.

"The fast having past, on the night before the festival the Incan clergymen took charge of getting the sacrificial animals and other food and drink which they had to offer to the Sun ready for the sacrifice. All of which was provided knowing the people had come to the festival, because the offerings had to suffice to feed all the nations, not only for the governors and the ambassadors, but also for the relatives, subjects and servants of all of them.

"The women of the Sun spent that night by preparing a large quantity of cornmeal called zancu; they made round bread, the size of a common apple, and it is proper to state that those Indians never ate their grain kneaded and made into bread except during that festival and during another called Citua...

"Chapter XXI -- Having foreseen the necessary, on the following day, which was the day of the festival, at dawn the Inca with his entire kinship group came out, who went out in order, according to the age and dignity of each, to the main plaza of the city, which they called Haucaipata. There they waited for sunrise and they were all barefoot and very attentive, looking east, and when the Sun became visible they all took a squatting position (which among those Indians is the same as to kneel down) to adore it, and with open arms and hands raised and directed towards its countenance, giving kisses to the air (which is the same as kissing the fabric of royalty out of reverence) they adored it with greatest affection and recognition of having it for their God and natural father.

"The governors, because they were not of royal blood were in another plaza, to the side of the main plaza, which they call Cusipata; they made the same adoration to the Sun as the Incas. Later the king rose to his feet, while the others continued squatting, and taking two large gold cups, which they call aquilla, filled with beverage which they drank. He did this ceremony, as progenitor, in the name of his father, the Sun, and with the vase in the right hand invited the Sun to drink, which is what the Sun ought to do, inviting the Inca and all his relatives, because inviting each other to drinking was the major and most ordinary demonstration which they had of goodwill for superiors and inferiors and of friendship of one friend with another.

"With the invitation to drink made, he spilled the glass in his right hand, which was dedicated to the Sun, into a large, wide-mouth gold jar, and from the jar it flowed from a spout into a rock hewn channel which flowed from the plaza towards the Temple of the Sun, since it was the Sun who had to drink it. And from the other vase in the left hand, the Inca drank a sip, which was his part, and after that he shared the rest with the other Incas, giving to each one a little in a tiny gold or silver cup which they had prepared to receive it.... Of this drink all those of royal blood drank, each one a sip. To the other governors, who were in the other plaza, they gave the same beverage which the women of the Sun had made, but not the sanctified beverage, which was only for the Incas.

"With that ceremony concluded, which was like an opening volley of what later they had to drink, they all went, in their order, to the House of the Sun, and two hundred steps before arriving at the door they all took off their shoes, except the King, who did not take off his shoes until the very door of the Temple. The Inca and his relatives entered within, as natural children, and they made their adoration to the image of the Sun. The governors, as unworthy of such a high place because they were not children, stayed outside, in a great plaza which today is in front of the door of the cathedral.

"The Inca offered from his own hand the gold cups in which they had made the ceremony; the remainder of the Incas gave their cups to the Inca priests who were nominated and dedicated to the service of the Sun, because those who were not clergy, although of the same blood as the Sun, were not permitted to act as priests. The priests, having offered the cups of the Incas, exited the door to receive the cups of the governors, which approached according to the antiquity of their having been in the empire, and they gave their cups, and other things of gold and silver which they had brought from their lands to present to the Sun, such as sheep, camelids, alligators, toads, snakes, foxes, tigers and lions and many varieties of birds; lastly, of that which they had in greatest abundance in their provinces, all imitating nature in gold and silver, although each thing in small quantities.

"Finishing their offerings, they returned to their plazas in their order; later the Inca priests came, with a large quantity of camelids, barren females and males of all colors, like the horses of Spain. All these animals belonged to the Sun. They took a black llama, because that color was preferred to the other colors for the sacrifices.

"This first sacrifice of a black llama was for the prognosticators and auguries of the festival. Because in all things that they did of importance, for peace as much as for war, they almost always sacrificed a llama, to look and affirm from the heart and lungs if it was acceptable to the Sun...

"Chapter XXII -- Returning to the solemnity of the solstice festival, we can say that if the sacrifice of the llama did not seem prosperous to the augur they did another, and if that was not satisfactory another, and if that result was unhappy, they did not relinquish having the festival, rather it was with sadness and weeping inside, saying that the Sun, their father, was irritated with them for some fault or carelessness, which, without taking notice, they must have committed in the Sun's service.

"They would fear cruel wars, sterility of the fruits, death of their livestock, and other similar harm. However, when the augur prognosticated happiness, the pleasure their festival brought them was great, for the hope of good things to come.

"Having done the sacrifice they brought a great quantity of camelids for the general sacrifice, and they did not do these like the first, opening them alive, instead they simply beheaded and flayed, collecting the blood and the hearts of them all and offered it to the Sun, as they did from the first llama, burning it all until it turned to ash.

"The fire for that sacrifice had to be a new fire, given by the hand of the Sun, as they say. For which they took a large bracelet, which they called chipana (similar to others which the Incas usually wore on their left wrists), and which the highest priest had; it was large, larger than the common ones; it has as a medallion a concave cup, the size of a half orange, and very polished; the faced it to the Sun, and at a certain point, where the rays of the cup departed together, they placed a little very teased cotton, because they didn't know how to make touchwood, which lights in a short time, because it is a natural thing. With that fire given in that way, by the hand of the Sun, they burnt the sacrifice and roasted the meat on that day. And they carried the fire to the Sun temple and the house of the virgins, where they maintained it all year, and it was a bad omen for them for the fire to go out on the eve of the festival which is when they got ready everything necessary for the sacrifice the following day; when there was no sunlight to start the new fire, they started it with two round sticks, thin like a small finger and a half yard long, drilling one against the other; the sticks are the color of cinnamon; they call this way of making fire and the fire making u´yaca, which in the same word serves as noun and verb....

"They roasted all the meat of that sacrifice in public, in the two plazas, and they divided it with all who were there in the festival, in the same manner Incas, governors and the rest of the common people, by their order of rank. And to one and all they served it with the bread called zancu; and this was the first meal of their great festival and solemn banquet. Later they brought a large variety of delicacies, which they ate without drinking while eating, because it was the universal custom of the Indians of Perú to not drink while eating.

"Of that which we have said it may have arisen that which some Spaniards have wished to confirm, that the Incas communicated with their vassals like the Christians. That which transpired between them we have fully stated....

"After the banquet they brought out drinks in the greatest quantities, that being one of the most notable bad habits which those Indians had, even though today, for the mercifulness of God and by the good example in this respect which the Spaniards gave them, today there is no Indian who gets drunk, to the contrary they abhor and decry it as a great disgrace, such that if in all their vices they were to be examples, they would be examples of apostolic preachers of the Evangelist.

"Chapter XXIII -- They toasted each other and with what order. -- The Inca, seated on his massive golden chair, placed next to a great golden table, they called upon their relatives named Hanan Cuzco and Hurin Cuzco in order that in his name they would toast the most noted Indians that there were from the other nations. They first invited to the generals who had shown valor in war, who were, although they were not persons with vassals, given preference by the governors; except that if the governor, together with being a person with vassals, had been a general in warfare, he was honored for one title and for the other. Next, in second place, the Inca invited to drink the governors of the region around Cuzco, those being all those whom the first Inca, Manco Capac, had converted to his service; who, for which great privilege the first Inca had given them the name Incas, they were held and esteemed in the highest grade, after the Incas of royal blood, and given preference over all the other nations, because those Kings would never imagine diminishing, in part or all together, privilege or other favor which in common or particularly their ancestors had given their vassals, on the contrary they continued to reconfirm and augment them little by little.

"For this toasting which they made to each other, it is understood that those Indians generally, (each proportionately) had and today have their cups for drinking matched, in twos: that is to say large or small, they were to be of the same size, of the same making, of the same metal, of gold or silver, or of wood. And they did this because there ought to be equality in the amount they drank. He who invited to drink carried the two cups in his hands, and if the invited was of lower rank, he was offered the cup in the left hand, and if of greater or equal rank the one in the right, with more or less courtesy, according to the rank and quality of the one and the other, and then they drank equally, and having had his cup returned he returned to his place, and always in similar festivals the first to invite was the greater to the lesser, in proof of the favor and mercy which the superior had towards the inferior. When later the inferior invited the superior to toast, it was in recognition of his vassalage and servitude.

"In keeping with this common custom, the Inca toasted first his vassals in the order we have described, giving preference in each nation to the generals over those who were not. The Incas that carried the drinks said to the invited, "The Inca invites you to drink, and I come in his name to drink with you." The general or governor, would take the cup with great reverence and raise his eyes to the Sun, giving thanks as if he did not deserve the favor his son was showing him, and having drunk he returned the cup to the Inca, without saying a word except that with gestures and demonstrations of adoration with arms and lips, sending kisses.

"And it is proper to state that the Inca did not invite all the governors in general (although to all the generals yes) to drink, only to some in particular, those seen as the best vassals, more friends of the common good; because that was what they toasted, equally the Inca, the governors, and the ministers of peace and of war. The other governors were invited to drink by the other Incas, who carried cups in their own names, and not in the name of the Inca, which sufficed to them and they held it as well said because it was from an Inca, son of the Sun, just as was his King.

"The first round of toasts having been made, within a short time the generals and governors of all nations turned to inviting in the same order in which they had been toasted, those who had been to the Inca himself, and the others to the other Incas, each to the other who had toasted him. To the Inca they arrived without speaking, only with the adoration we have described. He received them with great affability and having drunk the cups they gave him, and because he could not, nor was it lawful to drink all the drinks, he undertook to bring all of them to his mouth; from some he drank a little, drinking a little from some and more from others, in conformity with the favor he cared to demonstrate to their owners, according to the merit and quality of each. And to the educated who entered if any, who were all Incas by privilege, they were sent to drink for the Inca with the generals and governors; who, having drunk, returned their cups.

"Those cups, because the Great Inca had touched them with his mouth and lips, were held by the governors in greatest veneration, as a sacred thing; they did not drink from them or touch them, instead they put them like an idol, where they adored and revered them as a memory of their Inca, which he had touched. Arriving at this point, no tenderness will suffice to be able to sufficiently say how much love and interior and exterior veneration which those Indians had for their Kings.

"The toasts having been made and returned, they all returned to their places. Then followed the dances, songs and dancing in diverse styles, with the designs, heraldry, masks and inventions which each nation had brought. And with all this singing and dancing, they did not cease drinking, some Incas inviting others, some generals and governors inviting others, according to their particular friendships and the neighboring of their lands and other respects which they had between each other.

"The celebration of the Solstice festival lasted nine days, with the abundance of food and drink described, and with the festivity and merriment which each could show; but the sacrifices to make prognostications they did only on the first day. After nine days the governors returned to their lands, with the permission of the King, very happy and content from having celebrated the most important festival of their god the Sun. When the King was occupied with war or visiting the kingdom, they held the festival where they were, but not with the solemnity of those in Cuzco; where they took care to conduct it with the governing Inca and the highest cleric and the other Incas of royal blood, and then the governors or ambassadors of the provinces assisted which was nearest to them."

See Bibliography page for citations.

NEXT PAGE IS Andean Prehistory

Machu Picchu- - Tiwanaku - - Pisaq
Saxsayhuaman - - Inti Raimi - - The Andes

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© 1998 James Q. Jacobs. All rights reserved.
Photo Stock inquiries welcomed. Published April 30, 1998.