Main: The Inca site of Machu Picchu. Inset: Golden sun

Inti, Sun God of the Inca, Spawned the First Rulers of An Unforgettable Empire

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In the mythology / religious belief system of the Incas, Inti was the god of the Sun, and one of the most important deities in the Inca pantheon. As a solar deity, Inti is closely associated with agriculture, as this heavenly body provides the warmth and light needed for crops to grow. Hence, Inti was quite a prominent god amongst the farmers of the Inca civilization. Moreover, the Sapa Inca (the ruler of the Inca Empire) claimed direct descent from Inti, which further enhanced the prestige and status of this god.

17th century illustration by Martín de Murúa of the Inca Pachacútec praying to Inti, the sun god.

17th century illustration by Martín de Murúa of the Inca Pachacútec praying to Inti, the sun god. ( Public Domain )

Inti, Son of The Creator

Inti is believed to be the son of Viracocha and his wife, Mama Cocha. The Inca regarded Viracocha as their supreme deity, as he is the creator of the universe, whilst Mama Cocha was believed to be the goddess of the sea. As the creator of all things, Viracocha was the most important Inca deity, and his son, Inti, was the most important Inca deity after his father. In one version of Inca legend, Viracocha had two other children apart from Inti – Pachamama and Mama Quilla. The former was (and still is) worshipped as an earth goddess, whilst the latter was the goddess of the moon. Apart from being the sister of Inti, Mama Quilla was also considered by the Inca to be his wife.

Inti is said to be the son of Viracocha, pictured.

Inti is said to be the son of Viracocha, pictured. ( Public Domain )

Inti, the Giver of Life

As the god of the sun, Inti had a powerful influence over the lives of the Inca. He was believed to exert control over their agricultural activities and thus was vital to their existence. It is thanks to the sun’s warmth and light that crops are able to grow, hence farmers worshipped and prayed to this god.

Drawings by Guamán Poma de Ayala showing the planting of potatoes and other tubers  

Drawings by Guamán Poma de Ayala showing the planting of potatoes and other tubers ( Public Domain ) and their harvest. ( Public Domain ) Note the presence of Inti in the top left and Mama Quilla in the top right of the first drawing and only Inti in the second.

Whilst Inti was normally a benevolent and generous god, he was also capable of great anger, and solar eclipses were believed to be a manifestation of this displeasure. In such situations, the Inca would try to appease their deity by making offerings.

A gold-sheet mask representing the sun god Inti from the La Tolita part of the Inca empire. The design is typical of masks of Inti with zig-zag rays bursting from the head and ending in human faces or figures. National Museum, Quito, Ecuador

A gold-sheet mask representing the sun god Inti from the La Tolita part of the Inca empire. The design is typical of masks of Inti with zig-zag rays bursting from the head and ending in human faces or figures. National Museum, Quito, Ecuador ( CC BY NC SA )

Inti, Ancestor of Kings

Inti has also been claimed by the rulers of the Inca Empire to be their direct ancestor. The founder of the Inca Empire, Manco Cápac was held to be the son of Inti. According to one myth, it was Inti who gave the gift of civilization to human beings, via his son, Manco Cápac. In this legend, Inti is depicted as a generous god who looked after his people. Seeing that they were wild, unruly, and uncivilized, Inti was unhappy, and called his son, Manco Cápac, and his daughter, Mama Ocllo to him. He gave them instructions to go to the earth and teach the people to live. According to local folklore, this was the beginning of the Inca civilization.

Manco Cápac holding onto Inti.

Manco Cápac holding onto Inti. ( Public Domain )

Coricancha, House of the Sun

The significance of this god can also be seen in the fact that one of the most important Inca temples, the Coricancha Temple (meaning ‘House of the Sun’), in the Incan capital of Cuzco, was dedicated to him. The temple is thought to have been built during the reign of Pachacuti Inca Yupanqui, the 9th Incan ruler, and was the place where the Villac Umu (the ‘High Priest of the Sun’) presided over the religious rites in honor of Inti.

Other notable temples dedicated to this god include the ones at Pisac (to the northeast of Cuzco), Ingapirca (situated in what is today Ecuador), and on the Island of the Sun on Lake Titicaca. Coricancha was destroyed by the Spanish conquistadors, and most of the stones were used to build a church in its place.

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