The Pilgrimage of Qoyllurit’i is one of the most fascinating and folkloristic religious events of Andean culture, which has been passed down from generation to generation over the centuries.
This ancient tradition, originally created by the Inca people who resided in Peru, takes place in the district of Ocongate during the month of June, when the constellation of the Pleiades coincides with the constellation of Taurus.
The Inca, people of great astronomers, were used to organize their daily lives on the basis of the solar and lunar cycles, and had identified during this period the best time to harvest the crops, marking a period of great abundance and prosperity.
For this reason, every year the Inca people reunite in this valley to celebrate Viracocha (the Sun god) with offers and prayers, as a good omen for the future harvest.
After the colonization by the Spanish conquistadors in 1600, the Pilgrimage has been “contaminated” by the traditions and beliefs that are part of Christianity, creating a syncretism that unites the Andean religion and the Christian one, making Qoyllurit’i a unique event of its kind.
According to the Christian legend, the Lord of Qoyllurit’i appeared in this valley, and since then protects the people who inhabit these places.
The name Qoyllurit’i derives from a word in Quechua language meaning “Resplendent Star” or “Snow Star”.
According to tradition, the Ukuku, or the protectors of the mountains and animals, must bring the “Snow Star” during the pilgrimage, symbolized by a piece of ice taken from the Sinakara Glacier, to the village of belonging as good omen for the future.
The pilgrimage itself consists of an 8 km long procession that starts from the village of Mahuayani and then ends in the valley on the slopes of the Sinakara glacier, at the altitude of 4600m.
This huge valley is surrounded by 4 very important mountains called “Apus” (Ausangate, Hunacauri, Qanyaqway and Colquepunku) which for the andean people, who believes in the “Pachamama” or the Mother Earth, are the reincarnation of sacred spirits.
This long procession is a test for the pilgrims, who are forced to load everyting they need on their shoulders for the encampment of 5 days and resist the icy cold of the Andean nights.
On the way, the pilgrims are required to stop and pray on their knees in front of all the 14 crosses present on the path, which represent the steps of the way of the Cross of Jesus Christ. Once reached the valley for the first time, thousands of visibly touched pilgrims enter the sanctuary of Senor de Qoyllurit’i to pay homage to the sacred figure, even before settling their tents and camp.
This famous tradition attracts more than 10000 pilgrims from every region of Peru and northern Bolivia every year, especially the Quechua and Aymara communities, direct descendants of the native Inca people.
The reputation that the pilgrimage has created in recent years, attracts more and more foreign tourists to take part to this mystical experience.
The daily life in the encampment is punctuated by prayers, typical chants and traditional dances that never cease during the whole day and night.
The pilgrimage is a gathering point for people from different parts of Peru, traditional dances are varied and very different.
Each “Nacion” ( group of people from the same geographic area) has its typical dance, but also reproduces a typical dance in honor of the Senor of Qoyllurit’i, where people whipes the ankles of their cronies in sign of redemption. This traditional dance is widespread especially among the Ukuku or Pablitos, which is detectable from the typical long dress made of llama wool and from the doll on their head or chest, which is considered as the reincarnation of the mountain spirits, guardians of animals and men. Life inside the encampment is extremely hard, especially due to the harsh temperatures of the night, which can reach minus 10 °c under the zero.
Due to the difficult availability of food, many pilgrims are forced to bring with them the necessary foods for the duration of the pilgrimage.
Thanks to the greater popularity achieved by the event in recent years and the greater turnout of foreign tourists, small dining places open 24 hours a day are opening and offering a limited choice of typical dishes and hot beverages.
In observation of the Senor de Qoyllurit’i the consumption of alcoholic beverages is strictly forbidden, which during the festivals in Peru is quite rare, but that once again makes it possible to understand how much people are devoted to this religious figure.
The many devouted believers gather in this valley in order to ask for help to this religious symbol, praying for the realization of their dreams and for the prosperity of their families. During the central day of the event, the rhythms are punctuated by various processions which take place between the two main sanctuaries (Sanctuary of Qoyllurit’i and the Sanctuary of the Virgin of Fatima), where the differents “Nacion” pass by parades, loading crosses and sacred statues representatives of the Senor de Qoyllurit’i and the Virgin of Fatima.
At the end of these processions, during the sunset, several groups of Ukuku called “Comparsa” are reserved the task of climbing the mountain until the attainment of the Sacred Glacier Sinakara (5000m).
As tradition desires, the Ukuku, loading on their shoulders the cross that represents them, will pass the night on the glacier defying the harsh temperatures, going in search of the “snow Star” hidden between the cracks of the glacier.
During the dawn of the following day, the rest of the faithful head towards the last cross placed between the encampment and the glacier, loading the banner representing every “Nacion” to celebrate the victorious descent of the Ukuku from the glacier, and to pay homage both to Viracocha (the god of the Sun) and to Senor de Qoyllurit’i praying all togheter. This last moment of prayer, when the rays of the sun overlap the cross of Jesus Christ, fully represents the syncretism of this pilgrimage that fuses the Andean and Christian culture. The mysticism unleashed by this important religious pilgrimage makes it fascinating and unique in its kind.
From 2011, The Pilgrimage of Qoyllurit’i and its relative festival have entered in the list of Intangible Heritage of the UNESCO.
The colours, scents and traditions that have remained intact over the centuries make this event a must for all tourists who decide to venture into the Andean region of Cusco in June. The authenticity of this festival fully reflects the pride of a population who don’t want to forget their ancestral traditions, catapulting the minds of those who live it on a temporal journey unparalleled to the discovery of a millenary culture, making this an unforgettable experience.