Wednesday, September 2, 2009

On The Human Hair Tonsured at Tirumala Tirupati Temple

In 2007, Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams is planning to sell human hair worth 450 million Indian Rupees. This is an all time record for the famous shrine in India dedicated to Lord Balaji (Vishnu). The human hair from Hindu temples like Tirupati is nicknamed ‘Temple Hair’ and is of great demand due to its spiritual value.

Head tonsuring at the 1200-year-old Venkateshwara temple is a symbolic gesture –surrendering one's ego to God. Hindu devotees also offer their hair to Lord Balaji for favors received, to show gratitude and respect. And go on a pilgrimage to Tirupati to shave off their hair.

It is not the men alone who partake in this ritual; children and women of all ages shave their head in Tirupati. And there is a high demand for the long hair of women in Europe. It is estimated that more than 1500 women partake in this tonsuring ceremony daily and the number goes high on festival and auspicious days. The women’s hair ends up in salons across the world for making hair extensions and wigs.

The tonsured hair from men is used to extract a protein called L-Cystein. This protein is used in a range of products including eatables. Men’s hair is also used in coat linings and Chinese hair industry mixes it with hair from china to make cheap wigs and hair extensions.

Now, who uses the hair from Tirupati? It is said that several Hollywood stars prefer Indian hair. Why? They are the best quality and also due to the spirituality angle. Majority of the Indian men and women use natural methods to protect their hair unlike people from other countries who use various chemicals (shampoo) to clean and beautify their hair. So the Indian hair is natural – strong and durable and can be colored, curled, heated and blow-dried. It is said that the final product made from an Indian hair is sold between $1000 to $3000.

Hundreds of barbers work round the clock to meet the high demand of tonsuring, which is carried out at kalyanakatta, an enclosure inside the temple. The hair is segregated in grades. Hair that is black and longer than 16 inches is of the highest quality. Second quality is the black hair in length between 8 and 16 inches. Next is black hair shorter than 8 inches. The next two categories are the lowest and consist of grey and other colored hair.

Till 2000, the sale of hair annually was between 100 to 150 million rupees. But then there was a global surge in demand for human hair and the temple decided to invite global tender for hair purchasing. Within a couple of years, the annual earning from human hair increased from 150 million rupees to 330 million rupees and this year it is expected to break all existing records.

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