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Chakana - The Inca Cross

A chakana totem made of serpentine

A chakana totem made of serpentine

Inca Cross

A Chakana is an Andean symbol of the Incan civilization. Derived from the Quechua (traditional language of the Incas) word "chakay," meaning "to cross" or "to bridge," a chakana is a 3-stepped symmetric "cross" with a hole in the center of it.

The 3 steps represent the 3 tiers or worlds that the Incan culture believed in, with the centered hole representing the Incan capital of Cusco. This included the upper, middle and lower worlds. The upper wold (Hanan Pacha) included the stars, celestial beings and gods. The middle world (Kay Pacha) represented the world of human life, and the lower world (Uqhu Pacha) represented the underworld and death. These tiers/ worlds were also represented by their revered animals: the condor, puma, snake. The condor represented the upper world in the sky; the puma, a powerful land animal represented the middle world; the snake, living underground, represented the lower world

A Chakana on a keychain

A Chakana on a keychain

Chakana Cross

Some speculate that the 12 corners of the cross represented the 12 month cycle, with the 4 major arms of the cross representing the points of a compass. The chakana is also a representation of the Southern Cross constellation, which was one of the most important constellations in the Incan system. This constellation held great significance as it is comprised of four main stars, each correspnding to the cardinal points of the compass. The Southern Cross, also known as "Crux," is one of the most distinct constellations viewed from the Southern Hemisphere.

The chakana symbol is found throughout the Andeas and can be seen in talisman or standalone design object form. It can alse be seen in the architectural designs on many buildings, temples and ancient monuments, such as at the temple of the condor in Machu Picchu.

chakana design architecture

Baños de la Ñusta [photo courtesy of adam leand]

Baños de la Ñusta [photo courtesy of adam leand]

Though there are many representations of the chakana found in Peruvian sites at the ruins of Machu Picchu, Pisac and Ollantayambo, the oldest chakana representation was found in Bolivia. This ancient chakana was found at the archaeological site of Tiwanaku (and perhaps also at Isla del Sol) in Bolivia.

Ancient chakana at Tiwanaku, Bolivia

Ancient chakana at Tiwanaku, Bolivia

The Incas had a calendar that was composed of 12 months, each with 30 days. Each month on the Inca calendar had its own festival. As the chakana was a prevalent symbol within the architectural, social and religious aspects of the Incan culture, it's presence during these festivals was likely widespread.

Tempo Del Sol - Photo Courtesy of CZebalos

Tempo Del Sol - Photo Courtesy of CZebalos

The Chakana Symobology of Three

In addition to refering to the 3 religious realms of the upper, middle and lower worlds and the spiritual animals of the Condor, Puma and Snake, the 3-stepped design of the chakana is often cited to refer to other concepts of Incan life including:

The 3 Primary Prinicpals:

* Love (Munay): ...the love of self, love of humanity and the love of the gods

*Knowledge (Yachay): in the forms of intellect, experience, and consciousness.

* Work (Llankay)

The three-party agricultural system:

Specifically, the division of labor and aportionment of the harvest across the village, imperial and temple levels.


bolivialos on February 02, 2011:

Thx, it's easy when you draw it out. I read a lot about the chakana symbol. It is older than either the Inca or Aymara, the earliest known recording is from norte chico which developed, at the latest, around 3000 B.C. and its use has remained continuous right through to today.

Just thought i'd answer some questions even tho the posts are 2 years old lol. Through the pondering of the chakana you might stumble upon the complexity of their mathematics and the powerful symbolics in the primarily oral languages of the Andes. The foundations of mathematic theory as well as the golden ratio phi can be derived through drawing the chakana.

The enormity of information contained within this symbol when used as a mnemonic are astounding, it only dawned on me recently when I visited the museum of the American Indian here in D.C. where I live. The symbols of all the peoples representing their universes are actually slightly different renderings of the same concept.

with the grid technique i showed you it is also possible to draw a lidless eye (Egyptian symbol) and a sun with sixteen rays (masonic symbol). of course you could draw these without the grid but the grid helps significantly if you do it free hand (that is if you want it highly symmetric)

Ren Chin (author) on February 02, 2011:

@Bolivialos, that's an awesome technique

bolivialos on February 02, 2011:

The southern cross has 5 stars, first draw it. Using the four corner stars draw a diamond, now draw lines connecting the stars opposite each other. re-orient the image 90 degrees, now draw a line through the fifth star and the center point through to the other side, draw another line perpendicular to this newly drawn one. you will notice that it is a union jack symbol (two perpendicular set of axis atop one another) within a diamond, now you draw lines crossing the space in the diamond between the points marking the new axis perpendicular to the one given by the shape of the southern cross. now you have a diamond within a diamond. re-orient 90 degrees again then continue the process of connecting points where lines converge adding another layer to the grid. You reorient 90 degrees one last time and add the final layer to the grid. This is a way of modeling growth but many symbols can be derived from it. to derive the chakana you want to stop after three 90 degree re-orientations then erase the lines forming an outer-most diamond, then erase any lines protruding the central figure now seen (should have the appearance of the edge of the chakana) draw a circle in the innermost square touching at the four cardinal points, now erase everything inside this newly drawn circle, then erase everything between the circle and the edge of the chakana figure. That's how you make a chakana from the southern cross.

Sue on September 18, 2009:

Just returned from Peru 1 month ago. It was awesome. Thanks for the very interesing facts on the inca cross. Does anyone know where I can purchase inca crosses that were made in Peru. I knew I should have purchased more then I did. Thanks for any help.

Ren Chin (author) on April 13, 2009:

thanks Mary! I will check it out.

Mary on April 13, 2009:

hi there during the time i spent in Bolivia I learned this cross is Aymaran Cross, subsumed by the Incan traditions when the Quechua people took over.

Another Duncan on March 21, 2009:


Thanks for this reference it acted as a good reminder. My Quechua guides interpretation is also consistent with this explanation. He also added that two of the other sides stood for don't steal. don't lie, don't be lazy and the three sacred agriculutral products of corn, potato and coca. Also the symbol is often constructed only half protruding from the ground so that the shadow formed by the sun completes the cross. THe shadow part representing the non-material world. Hope this is of interest

Duncan on December 23, 2008:

This was a very very helpful piece about a wonderful sign! I have never been to Machu Picchu but my sister went and brought me back a matching necklace of the stone of Chakana. I found it all sooo interesting when she told me about it, and just fell in love with the story and mystery about it. one thing i don't understnand, though, is how did they, from seeing the constilation, think up the pattern of hte Chakana?? Well thanks for all of this, it was a great help!!! xx Duncan

Gemma van der Krogt on November 17, 2008:

Hi Sharon,

if you want to know/learn more you can read the book: The eagle and the condor of Jonnette Crowley! Very inspiring!!


Sharon on August 12, 2008:

Having just returned from Machu Picchu and Cusco, Peru, I wanted to learn more about the symbolic meaning of the Inca cross, or Chakana. Not much comes up when one "googles." This note was helpful, and consistent with other bits and pieces that I'd read. Thank you.

Sharon on August 12, 2008:

Having just returned from Machu Picchu and Cusco, Peru, I wanted to learn more about the symbolic meaning of the Inca cross, or Chakana. Not much comes up when one "googles." This note was helpful, and consistent with other bits and pieces that I'd read. Thank you.

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