Thursday, August 16, 2012
An annual celebration is underway here in Cochabamba. The festival of the Virgin of Urkupiña is celebrated with dancing, parades, and rituals that take place the third week of August. During this time, the traffic is so dense on our road that it takes us two hours to advance a few miles––if for some reason, we need to venture out during this mad rush. Recently our main road was paved, bringing with it more traffic than the years before. Looking out our windows at 6 a.m., we can see a steady stream of busses, taxis, and cars racing by on our main road a half mile from our house. They are rushing to reach the mountain 5 miles away.
This mountain is the location of the ceremony that takes place each year. It was here that the legend behind the festival began. The legend tells of a poor shepherd girl who met a young girl on this mountain while tending to her sheep on a hillside near Quillaqollo, a town outside Cochabamba. The young girl gave five stones to the peasant girl. When the little peasant girl returned home, she took them out of her pocket to show her mother. The stones had turned to precious gems. The girl's family was rescued from poverty. When people inquired as to the whereabouts of the encounter, the girl replied in her native Quechua language, "Urkupiña."
Today, this celebration, in honor of the legend, attracts nearly half a million people each year to the area of Cochabamba. The festival begins with a colorful parade of over 10,000 dancers and musicians, helping to spark the excitement of the celebration. Following the grand parade, a Mass takes place, a solemn event that ends with a march of the image of the Virgin of Ukupiña through the streets of Quillaqollo. The festival ends with a procession up the hillside where it is said the young girl appeared. Festival participants carry rocks they gathered the year before, and miniature objects of the things they desire for the coming year, in hopes of receiving a blessing. These stones and objects are symbolic of a loan, for once blessed you must return them to the hillside at some time in your life. Next, the participants break off their rock for the coming year. If the rock is large, it will indicate prosperity for the coming year.
The festival of the Virgin of Urkupiña is a spectacular event in Bolivian culture. It is a blend of Catholic faith and Bolivian tradition that attracts not only Bolivian people, but people from all across the globe, making the festival of the Virgin of Urkupiña a unique and spectacular event.
We won't be attending the festivities for two reasons––for safety reasons in large crowds, and we already have our Rock who provides all we need. "Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord God is an everlasting rock." (Isaiah 26:4 esv)