The Fiesta de la Candelaria is a major cultural festival held in Southern Peruvian city of Puno in February every year. The feast organized to honor the Virgin of Candelaria includes various religious, festive and cultural activities rooted deep in Catholic traditions besides representing symbolic elements of Andean people. It is a multi-day affair with different cultural and religion functions. The procession day is purely religious in nature and the most important for devotees whereas the other days are filled with folk dances and music.
The festival opens with a huge Mass in morning organized in the main square of the city followed by an ancient purification ceremony. Thereafter, the procession of the Virgin is carried through main streets accompanied by singing and dancing in the afternoon. At dusk, the statue is transported back to its original shrine. The following days are filled with elaborate dance performances.
You can join thousands of spectators that throng the stadium to admire choreography of dozens of folk groups from different parts of Puno. The groups bear typical clothing made with ancient materials including threads, silver and gold beads, and all kinds of bright costumes. The music is based on traditional Andean instruments like dulcimer, flute, quenacho, charango etc. After formal presentation, each group takes to streets to continue with their dance and music till late in the night.
Around 170 groups consisting of approximately 40,000 dancers and musicians enthrall the region with captivating performances. The main participants include inhabitants of Quechua and Aymara rural tribes along with urban people of Puno region. The festival is an opportunity for emigrated Puno natives to return and be a part of this pompous celebration.
The festival is organized by three regional federations that play a major role in preserving cultural heritage, techniques and traditional knowledge related to dance, music and mask making. The knowledge is transmitted to younger generations by organizing various music and choreographic rehearsals. Many workshops are conducted to nurture the art of mask manufacturing. The festivities end with a ceremony in honor of the Virgin, a concert and farewell masses.