Puno, a region near Cuzco, has been awash in celebration these last days. It has been the annual feast of the Virgin of Candelaria, recently declared Intangible Human Heritage by UNESCO. More than 100,000 dancers are claimed to have participated in the massive feast and folklore extravaganza.
This feast has an impact on Cuzco, given the proximity of the two capital cities. Numerous people from Cuzco have traveled to Puno for the event. Nevertheless, it has also brought together the people from Puno who reside in Cuzco to celebrate their Patron, even in the Inca City.
Known in English as the Virgin of Candlemass, the Candelabra has a long history and was very important in colonial times. She originated in the Canary Islands and was brought by sailors to the new world where she was embraced by indigenous Peruvians.
Early apparitions of Mary in Peru and Upper Peru were avocations of the Candelaria, such as the Virgin of Copacabana and the Virgin of Cocharcas. These drew faithful far and wide, making her one of the most celebrated images of Mary in the Americas. She also was very important among the descendants of the Inca elite.
Today, Candelaria is increasingly tied to Puno and its identity, as well as to Peruvianness and the Peruvian cultural brand, to the frustration of nearby Bolivia which sees this as an infringement on its culture and its own identity.
Wherever there are Puneños, there will be devotion to the Lady of Candelaria and this will be demonstrated in dance troupes performing the showy dances that have spread widely over the altiplano the high plateau around Lake Titicaca over the last forty years. These include the Diablada, Caporales, and the Morenada. Even in Cuzco these “traditional” dances are claiming a following.