This week Cusco filled with brightly colored costumes, street vendors, wayno music and the explosion of fireworks. It culminates today with Inti Raymi or the Festival of the Sun which draws tourists from all over the world. They also came in the weeks prior, to watch the numerous distinctive Peruvian communities salute and give their respects to the Incan capital.
Each day has been specifically themed, but they generally revolve around gathering in the Plaza de Armas to make a cultural presentation to the crowds waiting in front of the Cathedral.
This week, particularly, has been one of loud, colorful celebration. It sweeps you up in its excitement whether you are an insider or not.
However, the morning of June 21st, the solstice, a sacred fire ceremony disrupted the celebratory fashion and organization bringing a new energy to the festivities. This is particularly significant, because the city claims the solstice celebration for the 24th, the day of Inti Raymi.
At sunrise a small crowd gathered on the grounds of the Qorikancha temple or temple of the sun to make a sacred fire in honor of the Andean new year. This day Cusco at 3,399 meters receives the sun’s strengthened rays and begins transitions to warmer weather and rain.
At the base of the temple, two paqos or spiritual leaders in traditionally woven ponchos, keep the fire burning with large sticks of palo santo so participants can waft themselves with the smoke of the sacred flame and offer their three coca leaves.
While many of the participants were dressed in traditional textiles and familiar with the ceremony process, others were city people and while willing to undergo this ancient ceremony had a clearly nervous air. The historical suppression of indigenous ceremonies made this public ceremony a somewhat sober, educational and at the very least interesting occasion.
On the outside stood of ring of observers, camera crew, and media correspondents who felt the need to document this particular event as if it were out of place in the mix of political and cultural salutations held in the center. And it was.
While the other festivals of the week have a more political and identity driven performance, solstice morning was about honoring the sun and practicing Andean spirituality in a way that was not performative or for display. It was a simple ceremony, but in the face of gawking cameramen and passing by tourists it felt strong and sweet.
Afterward the crowd was blessed and had given their offerings, the men lined up to sound their large seashells. Cameras flashed again and the processions of pomp and circumstance began to proceed to the Plaza de Armas.