Archeology, Commentary

Stories Tied to Place, the Temple of the Moon and Inti Raymi

The Inka in Inti Raymi (Walter Coraza Morveli)

Cuzco has numerous Inca shrines visible around the city. Some fifty are found within the boundaries of the Sacsyhuaman Park alone. Amazing combinations of natural rock, carvings, and Inca-made walls, the temples amaze and perplex at the same time. Visitors are left wondering what the sites could be about and how the Incas might have used them.

Besides the archeological evidence of the shrines, we have the words of the Chroniclers who witness to Inca ways, including Inca stories and rituals. However, bringing the two together often seems frustratingly difficult.

Yet we know, from the descriptions of Chroniclers like Bernabé Cobo that stories were embedded in many if not all of the shrines and in the rituals performed there.

For his work, Cobo relied on an earlier writer Cristobal Molina who gathered data on Inca tales and rites. Molina, as we saw in an earlier post, sometimes brings the stories to ground by locating them in terms of particular shrines. Nevertheles, it is not always clear which modern place the name he supplies refers to.

One such place which was evidently very important is the site Molina calls Mantucalla.

At the beginning of the year, according to Molina, the Inca would hold a series of rituals that began with offerings to the hill Huanacaure as the sun rises. At midday, an offering was burned in the Temple of the Sun in Cusco and at sunset they made an offering at the hill behind which the sun disappears as the day closes.

Fiesta of the Inca, Guaman Poma de Ayala
Fiesta of the Inca, Guaman Poma de Ayala

The Tarpuntaes, the high priests of the sun, would follow a pilgrimage path from where the sun is born, as is the Vilcanota River, in the Pass of La Raya. The path marked the journey of the Sun. Along the way they would make offerings to a variety of significant shrines noted by Molina.

Meanwhile, Molina writes, the Inca along with the Lords would gather at Mantucalla, where they would drink, rest, and perform a certain kind of dance, taki, that included a chant or song. They performed this four times a day. Molina does not tell us the content of the chant, other than to say that through it they worshipped the creator, the Pachayachachec.

Molina writes that they brought to the celebrations two statues of women, called Palpasillo and Inca Oillo. He says they were ornamented with gold, copper, and silver as well as a multicolored tunic.

They also brought four, perhaps life-sized, statues of llamas, two of gold and two of silver, with red tunics on their backs. Molina writes “they were carried on litters [and] they did so in memory of the [first] ram that they say emerged from Tambo[toco] with them.” Molina notes that the bearers were principal lords.

According to Molina, the Inca would stay in Mantucalla throughout the month of Inti Raymi and at the end of the month would go to the Haucaypata, today called the Plaza de Armas, walking on a carpet of bird feathers which included all colors.

The entrance to the Plaza is where Garcilaso’s famous narrative of Inti Raymi begins. Garcilaso’s story serves as the basis for the contemporary theatrical performance of Inti Raymi that thrills tourists and organizes much of the city of Cuzco in its performance.

The preamble to Inti Raymi is important and makes the space of Mantucalla important for the life of Cuzco and its historical ritual.

Molina is not the only person to discuss this prelimiary festival as being key for Inti Raymi. Cobo, who drew from him and other sources, does so as well, although much later. Cobo mentions many of the same things, although he emphasizes the sacrifice of fine llamas to the sun and thunder at the hill Mantucalla. He mentions the presence of statues to these as well as a very many statues carved of wood clothed richly.

He also says that in the moment of the dance the Incas divided up. Half stayed at Mantucalla and the other half divided between Chuquicancha and Paucarcancha.

The sun, Cobo explains would return to the people statues of two llamas, one of silver and one of gold for Paucarcancha, two of seashells for Pilcocancha, and two for Mantucalla. These were buried in their respective places as part of the ceremony. At the end of the dance, the sun would also send large statues of llamas in fine material to Manturcalla. Cobo includes that he would also send two lambs. The animals were sacrificed to Viracocha there.

According to the archeologist of Inca Cusco, Brian S. Bauer, Mantucalla was probably the site called Salonpunco or Laco. Today that site is often called the Temple of the Moon and is very close to the shrine called today Kusilluchayoq.

Nevertheless, Bauer writes that in Mantucalla was a place known as Chuquimarca, the place or temple of Gold, a place where the sun was said to go to rest at night. Nearby was the spring of Mantucallas, also an important shrine, and the hill of Mantucalla itself.

An Altar Inside in the Temple of the Moon (Walter Coraza Morveli)
An Altar Inside in the Temple of the Moon (Walter Coraza Morveli)

However the specific locations actually worked out, the hill of Laqo, as it is spelled today, or the Temple of the Moon, is a large hill split into two parts with two caves, stepped carvings on its sides, and carvings of snakes, birds, and pumas on its top.

One can imagine it with statues of precious metals as well as of cloth covered, carved wood occupying the niches of the site. As a potential resting place for the sun, it would also have been a place where the Incas would have performed dances and chants most likely referring to their creation by Viracocha or Pachayachachec among all the peoples of the world, who then had to go underground–like the setting sun. The Incas came out of the window, or cave of Tambotoco it is said, not unlike the caves that opened the rock of Mantucalla, before making their own pilgrimage like the sun to Cuzco.

No doubt, besides the retelling in ritual of their own mythic history at this place sacred to the Sun, they would also narrate their devotion to the sun as his children and perform homage to him through song and dance, as well as through sacrifice. If Cobo is right, the sun would have recognized their devotion and made ayni (reciprocity) by giving them gifts in return that were, perhaps, kinds of illas that they could bury there, in an act of creation, so that their lands would return to fertility for another year.

In any case, the attachment of Inti Raymi and the narrative of the origins of the Incas and of the Sun to Mantucalla, as well as what may have been the main rite of Inti Raymi makes the place very significant and requires thinking it through in engagement with what we know of those stories.

References : Molina, Cobo, Garcilaso,

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