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INTI was the Inca sun god, worshiped in the Andes at the time of the Spanish conquest in the first half of the sixteenth century. The Sun was the Inca's dynastic ancestor and imperial god. The Inca ruler was believed to be the son of the Sun; his commands were divine oracles. According to one variant of the Inca creation myth, the Sun, having been created by the god Viracocha on a sacred island in Lake Titicaca (on the Bolivian-Peruvian Altiplano), rose over the lake and spoke to the first Inca ruler, Manco Capac, to whom he gave instruction in Sun worship. The Sun was the most important sky god, with Thunder (or Weather), Moon, and the star deities trailing in rank. There may have been a tripartite division of the Sun, but this is not clear. As was often true in New World religions, the Sun had various aspects or names. Inti was the royal deity; he was also identified with Punchao, the Sun of the daythat is, daylight. There may also have been specifically identified Suns of solstices or other astronomical events.

Inca sun worship was intimately integrated with the growing of maize. The sun was of vital importance in an expanding agricultural society mostly situated in hail-ridden altitudes with frequent frosts. The sun also regulated planting times. In the Inti Raymi ("sun festival"), held at the winter solstice (June), priests made a pilgrimage toward the east, and a ceremony took place in which the Inca ruler lifted a cup of chicha (a fermented maize drink) to the Sun, then sprinkled the liquid on the ground. There were sacrifices to the Sun on neighboring hills.

The legend of the founding of Cuzco, the capital city, indicates the agricultural basis of Inca religion. The wandering Inca, led by Manco Capac, were told to establish the city in a place where a gold rod given to them by the Sun would sink into the earth with one blow, indicating good planting ground. The Coricancha ("golden enclosure"), begun by Manco Capac as a humble shrine on the spot where the rod sank, was later expanded into the Temple of the Sun, an impressive structure of finely worked stone buildings around a courtyard; the facade was decorated with sheets of gold that reflected sunlight. (Manco Capac had originally presented himself to the Cuzco Valley people dressed in sun-catching gold ornaments.)

The Coricancha was the primary religious center, a place of pilgrimage, and a model for other Sun temples throughout the vast Inca empire. The priests of the Sun were of the highest rank (the chief priest was a relative of the Inca ruler), and there were many of them. At the Coricancha lived the "chosen women," wives of the Sun, who performed ritual duties including the preparation of ceremonial maize and chicha and the weaving of fine cloth to be offered to the Sun. At Inti Raymi, maize was specially prepared by them because it was thought to be a gift from the Sun. During several festivals only maize could be eaten. It was grown in the garden of the Coricancha, and three times a year, during festivals, maize plants fashioned of gold were displayed there. The best lands and largest herds of llamas belonged to the Sun, who also received the finest offerings, including pure-white llamas and objects of gold.

See Also

Manco Capac and Mama Ocllo; Viracocha.


Bernabé Cobo's History of the Inca Empire (Austin, 1979) is a valuable early source on myth and rite. Burr C. Brundage's Lords of Cuzco (Norman, Okla., 1967) includes a description of Inti Raymi, and J. H. Rowe's An Introduction to the Archaeology of Cuzco (Cambridge, Mass., 1944) includes a detailed section on the Coricancha.

Elizabeth P. Benson (1987)