The feast of the Exaltation of the Lord of Qoyllur Rit’i is carried out in the month of September, from the 12th to the 15th. This colorful fiesta is organized by the Municipality of the District of Ocongate and the regional government of Cusco. For these days, the population of the town of Ocongate grows. Thousands of pilgrims from throughout Peru’s south arrive at the feet of mount Sinakara. The pilgrimage begins in the community of Mahuayani and it is 8.5 kms. from there to the Sanctuary up on the mountain.
This feast brings together thousands of pilgrims who experience together the processions and religious masses that are celebrated in Quechua. They also share the blessings that the priest gives and each mass performed in honor of the Lord of Qoylllur Rit’i.
During the celebration you can see the duality of religious cults. The faithful and devount light candles before the image of the Lord of Qoyllur Rit’i, but at the same time trust their faith and prayers to the snow-clad Lord, the mountain.
On the 12th of September, all the dancers gather in their various cargos, the homes set up by the various sponsors of the feast. There are 19 cargos that you will find scattered among the houses of the town of Ocongate. There all enjoy the food. They also dance, sing, and have fun among themselves. In the plaza, the collas carry out a lot of games and acrobatics with flames making the people present vibrate with emotion.
From 6 am on the 13th, people set out on the pilgrimage to the sanctuary near the glacier. All the dance troupes go up, one after the other, making very long lines. They stop to greet each cross along the way. From dusk to dawn the dancers bring emotion to those present with their various steps and indigenous costumes.
On the 14th at 4 am, the 19 comparsas, or dance troupes, gather in the sanctuary to hold their traditional meetings and to sanction those dancers who have not behaved well by drinking or starting some form of conflict during the pilgrimage. They punish them by whipping their buttocks.
After the mass and the punishments, at 9 am, all the comparsas start their return, in order, to their cargo-houses in Ocongate. There, content for the pardons and blessings they are receiving, they dance throughout the night and offer toasts with beer and chicha in honor of the Lord of Qoyllur Rit’i.
On the 15th they carry out the cacharpari, the feast of saying goodbye, in the main square of the town of Ocongate. You will see lots of people of all ages. The town continues to maintain its customs. The locals all speak Quechua and wear polleras, sandals, and hats for men and women. People all mix together. The Dancers and the whole public make up, in their diversity, a grand rainbow in the plaza. The dancers greet the public and the central Church of Qoyllur Rit’I where is found the image of the Lord Qoyllur Rit’i.
The 19 comparsas say goodbye by parading their banners and dancing in the doorway of the temple all day long and into the night. Around the church you will find a wall of people touching shoulders and who have fun watching the unfolding of choreographies in the traditional dances. These include: Capac Colla, Capac Negro, Mestiza Collacha, Capac Chunchu, Contra Danza, Pasa Collacha, and others. You will also hear their songs in Quechua.
Around the plaza, beyond the performances, you can see the dancers coming together to drink and make toasts for the festivities. They gather to eat and drink with the devotees who are present.
The fiesta of the Exaltation of the Lord of Qoyllur Rit’I is very different from the celebration carried out in the month of May. All the nations of Tawantinsuyo come together for that one to climb up to the glacier of Mount Sinakara, while in this one they only take their dances to the sanctuary with much faith. The great majority of the participants and attendees are locals from Peru’s southern highlands. You do not see tourists, unlike in the month of May.