The Inca Empire was the largest empire in pre-Columbian America. The administrative, political and military center of the empire was located in Cuzco. The Inca Empire arose from the highlands of Peru sometime in early 13th century. From 1438 to 1533, the Incas used a variety of methods, from conquest to peaceful assimilation, to incorporate a large portion of western South America, centered on the Andean mountain ranges, including large parts of modern Ecuador, Peru, western and south central Bolivia, northwest Argentina, and north and north-central Chile.
The Incas identified themselves as “children of the sun. ” War spread the religion of Inca. They settled in a small village they called “Cuzco” in 1250. From thereon, they went on a conquering spree. By 1500, the Inca Empire consisted of 5 million subjects and 4400 kilometers of territory. As the empire grew, it conquered the Gods of the conquered into its pantheon. Once conquered, the states were allowed to worship their own local deity. However, one requirement of the Inca overlords was that states support the cult of the Inca Sun God as the religion of the empire.
Also, they transported the images of the local Gods to their sun temple in Cuzco. The Inca religion was easily capable of incorporating the religious features of most subjugated regions. The setting for beliefs, idols and oracles, more or less throughout the entire empire, had been preordained over the previous two thousand years: a general recognition of certain creator deities and a whole pantheon of nature-related spirits, minor deities and demons.
The customary form of worship varied a little according to the locality, but everywhere they went the Incas (and later the Spanish) found the creator god among other animistic spirits and concepts of power related to lightning, thunder and rainbows. The Incas merely superimposed their variety of mystical, yet inherently practical, elements onto those that they came across. Religious observances – of the official state religion- united the different ethnic and language groups. The priests of the Sun were largely responsible for spreading the language and principles and ideals of the Incas among the newly conquered places.
The local households called ayllu worshipped both the Sun god as well as their local spirits. The Incas worshipped the dead, ancestors, founding culture heroes, their king whom they regarded as divine, nature and its cycles. The worship of nature and its cycles suggest that for them time and space were sacred, and consequently the calendar was religious and each month had its own festival. The most important cult was directed to Inti the god sun who nourished the earth and man with his rays. The most important feast was the one dedicated to Inti, called IntipRaimi.
This rich ceremony, with its splendid costumes, and gold and silver offerings and decoration, was opened by the Inca emperor, his family and the curaca. After the opening the emperor made a libation to the sun and drank chicha (a maize drink) with his family, then led a procession, followed by every one into the sun temple, where the imperial family made offerings of precious vessels or images to the god. Following this, omens were read and llamas were sacrificed. The ceremony ended with eating and drinking. The Incas believed in the notion of polarity that was expressed by the words hanan and hurin.
Hanan expressed the high, superior; right, masculine, and hurin expressed the low, inferior, left, feminine. This polarity was evident in the cult to the moon (Quilla), considered as female and the sister and wife of the sun considered a male entity. They conceived the world as composed of three aspects. In their representation of the cosmos, for example they used the three words: UKU PACHA (the past and the interior world), KAY PACHA (the world of present and of here), and HANAN PACHA (the future and the supra world).
These worlds are represented as concentric circles. Each of these worlds is inhabited by spiritual beings. Once future, present and past are not conceived as a linear structure, human beings can access the three dimensions. After the expansion of the Inca Empire, royal ancestor worship was established and increased dramatically. When one Inca ruler died, the new ruler would not only inherit the wealth of the office, but also the office itself. They believed that after death, the two souls which inhabit each person would take different ways.
One would return to its place of origin – that actually depended upon the virtues of the dead, on the kind of death one had, as well as on the dead person’s social and economical condition. The other soul remained in the body which was preserved intact and mummified. It is most probably this belief that led the Incas to bury personal belongings with the dead. Their burial customs reflected the belief in life after death. The bodies of wealthy, both men and women, were wrapped in fine tapestry. The men would have beside them in the grave, the implements they used in war, fishing and hunting.
Also, sometimes the finest pottery vessels or other objects of gold or silver would go alongside the body. There would also be a supply of food, coca leaves and other items required in day-to-day life. These were left for the body to be used in its journey to the next world. The poor man was thrust into a hole in the sand of the coast, or into the crevasse between the rocks in the mountains. Beside him would be an ear of corns, pottery vessel for water and some odd shaped stones like amulets. The Incas of the coast regions called their deceased bodies as mummies.
The mummies of Inca rulers are treated as if they are still alive. Servants would still tend to the estate of the deceased and on important ceremonies mummies would be brought out to celebrate with everybody else. On important issues, some even consulted the mummies before any action was taken. The official state religion consisted of not only the royal mummy cults but also Inti, the Sun God. Inti was one of the most famous of the three manifestations of the sky God, who stood in the upper pantheon of Inca religion.
The first manifestation of the Sky God was Viracocha, the creator. The Viracocha was thought to have a human form. He lived in the sky and commanded a lot of supernatural beings who looked after the welfare of human beings. This is an example of a Prayer to Virococha: “O Creator without equal, you are at the ends of the world, you gave life and valor to mankind, saying “Let there be man” and for the women, “Let there be women”; You made them, formed them and gave them life so that they will life safe and sound in peace without danger!
Where are you? Do you live high up in the sky or down below the earth or in the clouds and storms? Hear me, respond to me and consent to my plea, giving us perpetual life and taking us with your hand, and receive this offering wherever you are, O Creator. ” The second manifestation of the Sky God was that of Illapa, the God of thunder and weather. This God was extremely important for agriculture as He regulated the rainfall. The third manifestation was Inti, Sun God who was also responsible for the Inca royal lineage.
He got the greatest importance and he was the center of all rituals. An additional deity was Quilla the Goddess of the moon. Quilla was the wife of Inti and was responsible for women’s menstrual cycles and agricultural cycles. When eclipses occurred, this was believed to be the work of puma or snake that tore Quilla apart. Hence, dogs were made to bark and howl. Women formed the membership of the cult of the moon. Yakumama (Mother of Water) was believed to control subterranean and mountain streams, blessing the fields with nourishment and springing fresh water from the earth.
The complement of Chiqui Illapa, she was associated with ukupacha, the lower kingdom of heaven. A regional deity, Mamacocha(Mother of Sea) was important to ayllus of the Peruvian coast, where she maintained the fertility of of the sea. She was honored with conch shells, which were more valuable in this region than gold or silver. Pachakama (Mother of Earth) was also a regional deity, important to the Andean highlanders. She was ascribed the role of ensuring the fertility of soil and seed in the harsh mountain climes.