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The Qoyllur Riti, A One of a Kind Religious Festival in Cusco
Among all of the religious festivals that are celebrated year after year in Cusco, the Qoyllur Riti occupies a special place in the heart of the inhabitants of the Andes. A complete mixture of Andean mysticism and Hispanic religiousness are the stars of this festival that gathers more than 10,000 people at the foot of the Colquepunco Mountain during May or June (the date varies).
A unique celebration of which you can be part of if you travel to Cusco during these dates. Discover all the wonders of the history of Qoyllur Riti here!
What is Qoyllur Riti?
The Qoyllur Riti, which in Quechua means “Snow Star”, is a religious festival that is celebrated in Cusco 58 days after Easter and only a few days before Corpus Christi, so the date varies year after year.
It is a celebration that mixes the Andean traditions of the pre-Hispanic era with the religion imposed by the Spanish conquerors. Thus, the devotees use the image of Christ, but they truly venerate the integration of the human being with nature, the Earth’s fertility and the adoration of the apus (spirits of the mountains).
The Qoyllur Riti takes place only in the Peruvian Andes but, despite this, has a very high participation of devotees and curious crowds. Up to 10,000 people participate in this pilgrimage!
Each year, devotees from different places in Cusco and other departments of Peru make a pilgrimage of 8.5 km/5 mi which begins in Mahuayani and ends, five hours later, in the sanctuary of the Lord of Qoyllur Riti. This journey is made through the valley of Sinakara and reaches the foot of the Colquepunco Mountain at 4,800 meters/15,748 feet above sea level. Can you imagine the beautiful landscapes that accompany this pilgrimage?
Also, each town sends a delegation of dancers with colorful costumes that are responsible of various deeds: from transporting the crosses up the mountain for the entertainment of the festival with music and typical dances.
One of the main characters of this celebration are the pabluchas or ukukus, typical man-like characters of the two most important religious festivals of Cusco: The Paucartambo Virgin of Carmen and The Qoyllur Riti.
The pabluchas or ukukus attract everyone’s attention by wearing suits that cover not only their bodies but their heads also. In addition, they are in charge of helping the audience with any questions or needs and maintaining order during the event.
Likewise, the pabluchas or ukukus perform various acts of penance, such as walking on their knees and burying their hands in the snow or climbing to the top of the mountain to carry down large blocks of ice and deliver them to the population, as it is thought they have healing powers.
Pilgrimage, penance, music and dance are accompanied by masses adapted for all of the inhabitants of the region since they are given by the parish priests in Spanish, Quechua and Aymara languages.
All of these traditions and many others that take place during the festival made The Qoyllur Riti to be declared Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO in the year 2011. Are you going to miss it?
How did The Qoyllur Riti story originate?
According to the story, a shepherd boy named Mariano met another young man named Manuel in the mountain. These two boys became friends and, thanks to Manuel’s help, Mariano’s cattle grew substantially in a short time. When Mariano’s father saw how his son’s cattle had grown, he wanted to meet Manuel along with the parish priest of the town. But when the parish priest arrived to greet Manuel, all of a sudden, he turned into stone.
Even though this tradition is Christian in a way, since the church interpreted this story and Manuel’s role as that of baby Jesus; it is also pre-Hispanic, because the cultures prior to the Spaniards were associated to the union between the human being and nature.
When is the Qoyllur Riti 2019 celebrated?
This year, the Qoyllur Riti festival will be held from June 15th to June 18th, with a central day on Monday, June 17th.
To be part of this event, we recommend you look into tourist agency services which will take you to the place and tell you more fascinating stories about this incredible tradition.
Of course, you will have to be well prepared! The pilgrimage path is difficult and temperatures can drop to -4ºC/25°F; however, the show is totally worth it!