The Chakana is the graphic representation of a concept that has multiple levels of complexity according to its use. Literally, Chakana is a word of Quechua origin, born either from the union of the words chaka (bridge, union) and hanan (high, up, big), or from the same chakana, ladder. Thus, Chakana carries the meaning of union with the Hanan Pacha, what is above or what is great.
The chakana or chaka hanan means the bridge to the top. It has a double reference: it is the Quechua denomination of the constellation of the Southern Cross, which is the basic symbol and origin of its worldview, due to its proportionality and cosmogonic character. By extension of its principles, the stepped signs are also called chakana, among which the stepped cross stands out.
The “Chakana”, translated from Quechua (the language spoken by the Incas) means staircase.
For the Andean people, Chakana is synonym with the Andean Cross (see illustration below), which is inspired by the star constellation of the Southern Cross. The Andean Cross for the people, gave the feeling of safety, blessing, assistance and fertility. Up to today people put the cross together with crops on the roofs of their houses, pointed to the top of the mountains (where their gods reside) to increase its magic power.
The three steps (of the staircase) of the Chakana indicate the three worlds according to the Andean Cosmos vision:
Ukupacha (Underworld), where their ancestors live, but also the seeds and reptiles (important in their mythology). This world is represented by the snake.
Caypacha (Earth), which exists from two parts, water and earth, and this is the world where humans reside and have to share with fauna and flora. The puma represents this world.
Hananpacha (Sky) where the Andeans gods live. This world is represented by the condor, the communicator between Hananpacha and Caypacha. The center indicates void and stands for God.
Besides, Chakana represents the Southern Cross constellation. As the Southern Cross its four stars are rotating around the South pole, the Andean people could use it’s changing location to determine important agricultural dates, e.g. when to harvest, seed etc.
At midnight on the 2nd of May the Southern Cross reaches its highest position. On this day farmers started to harvest which was a very important event and the motivation for fiestas.
The oldest “Chakana” has been found at the archeological site of Tiwanaku and Isla del Sol in Bolivia. Other representations have been found in Peru at the Inca ruins of Machu Picchu, Ollantaytambo, Pisac and Raqchi and at the ruins of Chavín de Huantar in Central Peru.
The chakana or Andean cross is believed to be related to the southern cross, the southern hemisphere equivalent of the northern hemisphere’s big bear. The southern cross is a constellation formed by the stars Alpha, beta, Gamma and Delta, which form a star, hence its name. The Aymara call it Pusi Wara (four stars) and the Mapuche call it CHOIKE, (Ostrich Footprint).
In the observation of the Chakana constellation, the Andeans obtained a measurement pattern (TUPU) or “Sacred Proportion”, taking the length of the smaller arm of its horizontal axis, as the side of a square. The diagonal of said square corresponds to the length of the larger arm of the vertical axis. They called the diagonal of the square CHEQALUWA (Cheqaq= the True), and which corresponds to the Square Root of Two.
Taking this unit square, and rotating its diagonal about its midpoint, a circle is created, the diameter of which constitutes the side of a new square, containing the first square and circle created. Carrying out this operation three more times, and projecting the first square towards the four directions, a Ritual expression of the Chakana is obtained, known as “Andean Stepped Cross”, where 3.14 (PI) times the transversal of said square enters, in the perimeter of the created circle.
When a luminous body is at the center of the sky and we can see it over our head, it is said to be at the zenith. That is why at 12 o’clock noon, when the sun is at the center of the sky, it is called the zenith hour. Except that with the sun, it is enough to observe how the shadow is cast to know that we are exactly under its light.
The same does not happen with the stars at night, and to capture their reflection, we need water mirrors. To have a water mirror, you need a pot of water. You place it under the star that is at the zenith, whose reflection you want to capture. You know that the mirror of water is reflecting the exact point, when a luminous and static ring forms around the vessel, that is, it does not move.
On the other hand, if you have not yet captured its exact place, the reflection projected on the water moves. To capture the exact point, you have to slowly move the vessel until the luminous ring appears.
That was what the Andean men did to move the Southern Cross to earth. This constellation is at its zenith between May 2 and 3 at midnight, in the highland populations of Salinas de Garci Mendoza, the Thunupa volcano and the entire area.
In this way, once the Southern Cross was moved to earth, they obtained its measurement standard, called Tupu, which consists of the distance from point to point of its transverse axis or smaller arm. At present, this Tupu is equivalent to 20.4 meters. and its main or trunk arm coincides with the cross section of the square formed by 4 Tupus, which was later called the sacred proportion.
Said square formed by the four Tupus came to be the measure of surface called Ek’a. In addition, turning this square about its midpoint generates a circle, from which they concluded that the transversal of the square enters 3.16 times the perimeter of said generated circle.
5 Ek’as arranged in a cross, was the basis for generating the Chacana Cross that you will often see in their fabrics. The wip’ala or flag of the Tawantinsuyu, also has its origin in this generation of squares and consists of 7 x 7 squares of fading colors that end in a row of white, arranged diagonally.
The chakana is formed by inserting a square inside a circle. In turn, the square encloses another rotated 45º. The central point of the sides of the small square allow to delimit the two vertical and horizontal cross bars. The intersection of the two bars allows to fix the central square, within which the central circle is inscribed.
The red line is set at 22º30′ from the vertical. The “Ch’ekkalluwa”, in Quechua or line of life. Some researchers relate it to the angle of rotation of the earth, responsible for the seasons and therefore for life (23º30).
The Andean peoples, in their interest to better observe the stars, devised a system that allowed them to be lowered and which is known as Water Mirrors. The astronomical map was reflected in them at night. So the stars went down. Thus they lowered the Southern Cross, studied it and obtained a measurement standard that they called TUPU consisting of the length and angle of the smaller arm of its vertical axis, corresponding to the side of a square, while the diagonal of this square corresponded to the length and angle of the greater arm of the vertical axis. Measurement that they called the Sacred Proportion and that is the base of the grids that are observed in fabrics, ceramics and diverse archaeological testimonies. A figure that seems square, but with a small variation in its vertical lines, which was called EK’A. By rotating this square about its midpoint, it created a circle, where 3.16 times the transversal of said square entered, on the perimeter of the created circle.
The four stars that make up the Southern Cross, allowed the pre-Hispanic Andean man to develop a universal modulator system, which allowed him to solve mathematical, geodetic, philosophical and social problems. The four stars led them to conceive the four of their own and order their entire society. Its imaginary horizontal axis separated two spaces (above and below), which gave rise to the Hanan and Hurin demarcation of cities and towns. Likewise, the imaginary vertical axis separated it into left and right, feminine and masculine, both important for maintaining balance.
The Diarchy practiced by the Incas and their predecessors is based on the sacred science of the Chakana. That is why some Spanish chroniclers said that there was not a single Inca but there were two at the same time, one for the Hanan Cusco and the other for the Hurín Cusco.
That is why we can affirm that the basis of Andean thought is sustained by our square and staggered cross.
Much of the existing archaeological iconography, seen from this perspective, would actually be ritual representations of mathematical formulas, written in a binary system, similar to that of modern computers, and not simple decorations or adornments.