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Chakana - Cross of the Inkas

The Chakana, a.k.a. Cross of the Inkas or Cross of the Andes

The Chakana is often referred to as “Cross of the Andes” or “Inka Cross.” The most common representation is found in the form of a cross with three steps on each side and a dot or a hole at the center. Chakanas with 6 steps on each side were found in the old Inka town of Ollantaytambo, which supports the conclusion that the representation of the Chakana is flexible and not very rigid. Chakanas are also found in the most important Inka temple, the Wiraqocha temple (“Temple of God”) in Raqchi, painted on the gigantic outer walls, as well as in the temples of Pisaq and Urko.

Origin of the Inka Cross

The oldest known Chakana is carved in stone and dates back to the time of the Marcavalle culture, which inhabited the valley of Cusco around 1,000 BC. The second oldest and almost completely preserved Chakana was also chiseled in stone; it dates to the period of the Pukara civilization which developed about 500 BC to about 500 AD and whose territory stretched out about 100 km south of Cusco to the present-day sacred place in Copacabana (Bolivia) on Lake Titicaca. Another Chakana can be found in the center of the Kalasasaya temple complex in Bolivia. There, a horizontal Chakana is embedded into the top of the pyramid. It dates back to the time of the Tiawanako civilization (400 AD to 1,000 AD); a culture that was born from the synthesis between the Pukara culture and a culture from the area of present-day Bolivia.

The Inka culture, whose myth or legend is closely linked with the island of the sun (Isla de Sol) and the island of the moon (Isla de Luna) on Lake Titicaca, developed about 1,000 AD. Legend has it that the first Inka king Manco Qhapaq was born on the island of the sun and his wife on the island of the moon. There, on the Isla de Luna, a three-dimensional Chakana can be found, which in turn could mean that in the Inka tradition, the Chakana represented the most powerful female symbol.

Meaning and interpretation of the Chakana

Representation of a half cakana, cross of the Inkas. As it points downwards it implicates to move the living energy from top to bottom

Juan Núñez del Prado even considers it possible that the Chakana is an abstract representation of the Pachamama, the Cosmic Mother, the feminine side of the metaphysical. Its corresponding counterpart would be the symbolic representation of the male aspect of the metaphysical, as shown, for example, in the Cathedral of Cusco in the form of an egg (Hatun Taqe Wiraqocha).

The root Chaka means “bridge” in Qechua and Chakana can best be translated as “acting as a bridge.” This may mean that someone or something acts as a bridge between heaven and earth, like the rainbow or the Milky Way, since other interpretations indicate that the point in the middle of the Chakana represents Mother Earth, supported by the rainbow (as a symbol of the Amaru of the day) on the left and the Milky Way (as a symbol of the Amaru of the night) on the right. 

Certainly there are also interpretations that refer to the three levels of the Chakana in a metaphorical sense as the three levels of this world: the “Upper World = Hanaq Pacha, the Middle World = Kay Pacha and the Lower World = Uju Pacha,” or perceive them as symbols of the skills that characterize humans: Munay = the ability to love, Yankay = the ability to work or to take action, Yachay = the ability to think or to gain wisdom.

The view that top, bottom, left, and right stand for the directions north, south, east, and west is rather unlikely.