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VIRACOCHA is the name or title in the Quechua language of the Inca creator god at the time of the Spanish conquest of Peru in the sixteenth century. According to Inca beliefs, Viracocha (also called Ticciviracocha) made earth and sky, then fashioned from stone a race of giants. Displeased with them, he turned some giants back into stone and destroyed the rest in a flood. He then caused the sun and the moon to rise from Lake Titicaca, and created, at nearby Tiahuanaco, human beings and animals from clay. He painted clothing on the people, then dispersed them so that they would later emerge from caves, hills, trees, and bodies of water. He gave the people social customs, food, and other aspects of civilization. Appearing as a bearded old man with staff and long garment, Viracocha journeyed from the mountainous east toward the northwest, traversing the Inca state, teaching as he went. At Manta, on the coast of Ecuador, he spread his cloak and set out over the waters of the Pacific Ocean.

Viracocha is described by early Spanish chroniclers as the most important Inca god, invisible, living nowhere, yet ever-present. Texts of hymns to Viracocha exist, and prayers to him usually began with the invocation "O Creator." A temple in Cuzco, the Inca capital, was dedicated to him. He also appeared as a gold figure inside Cuzco's Temple of the Sun. Near this temple, a huaca (sacred stone) was consecrated to Viracocha; sacrifices were made there, particularly of brown llamas. At the festival of Camay, in January, offerings were cast into a river to be carried by the waters to Viracocha.

Viracocha may have been identified with the Milky Way, which was believed to be a heavenly river. His throne was said to be in the sky. The sun, the moon, and the star deities were subservient to him. Inti, the sun, was the imperial god, the one whose cult was served by the Inca priesthood; prayers to the sun were presumably transmitted by Inti to Viracocha, his creator.

Because there are no written records of Inca culture before the Spanish conquest, the antecedents of Viracocha are unknown, but the idea of a creator god was surely ancient and widespread in the Andes. Viracochawho was related to Illapa ("thunder," or "weather")may have been derived from Thunupa, the creater god (also the god of thunder and weather) of the Inca's Aymara-speaking neighbors in the highlands of Bolivia, or from the creator god of earlier inhabitants of the Cuzco Valley. The god's antiquity is suggested by his various connotations, by his imprecise fit into the structured Inca cult of the solar god, and by pre-Inca depictions of a deity very similar to Inca images of Viracocha. Viracocha is sometimes confused with Pachacámac, the creator god of adjacent coastal regions; they probably had a common ancestor.

The eighth king in a quasi-historical list of Inca rulers was named for Viracocha. The god appeared in a dream or vision to his son, a young prince, who (with the help of the god, according to legend) raised an army to defend Cuzco successfully when it was beleaguered by the rival Chanca people. This prince became the ninth Inca ruler, Pachacuti Inca Yupanqui (r. 1438?1470?), the great man of Inca history, who glorified architecturally the Temple of Viracocha and the Temple of the Sun and began the great expansion of the Inca empire. According to some authors, he was called Yupanqui as a prince and later took the name Pachacuti ("transformer"). He is usually referred to simply as Pachacuti (Pachacutic or Pachacutec), although some records refer to him more fully as Pachacuti Inca Yupanqui. It was he who provided the list of Inca rulers.

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The relative importance of Viracocha and Inti, the sun god, is discussed in Burr C. Brundage's Empire of the Inca (Norman, Okla., 1963); Arthur A. Demarest's Viracocha (Cambridge, Mass., 1981); Alfred Métraux's The History of the Incas (New York, 1969); and R. Tom Zuidema's The Ceque System of Cuzco (Leiden, 1964). Gary Urton's At the Crossroads of the Earth and Sky: An Andean Cosmology (Austin, 1981) interprets Viracocha in the light of present-day Quechua-speaking sources.

Elizabeth P. Benson (1987)