The trade in human hair at the Tirumala Venkateswara Temple in India
SELLING hair for profit:
Every day at the Tirumala Venkateswara Temple in India, about 10,000 people sit cross-legged on the floor of the tonsuring room and let one of the 500 temple barbers shave off their hair. For many Hindu pilgrims, the shave is an intensely moving experience, as they believe that by sacrificing their hair here they will gain Lord Venkateswara’s protection and be cleansed of material debts.
Once the hair hits the floor, however, it enters the world of business. The strands are collected by attendants, packed into large steel bins, washed, and sorted according to length and quality. Twice a year, the stored hair is auctioned off and exported, mainly to the USA, UK and China, where it is used to make hair extensions and wigs. Long, untreated Indian hair is in high demand; the temple’s longest hair sells for RS20,000 (US$375) a kilogram.
Last year, amid concerns that buyers were forming a cartel, conspiring to keep bids low, the temple stopped its open auctioning process and began to sell online instead, through secret tenders. So far, it’s proving extremely lucrative; in 2011, the temple sold 561 tonnes of hair for RS2 billion ($36.9 million).
Photo: Barbers shave off the hair of Hindu holy men as they participate in rituals that will rid them of all ties in this life so that they can dedicate themselves to serving god as “Naga” or naked holy men, during the Ardh Kumbh festival in Allahabad, India, Tuesday Jan. 16, 2007. The significance of nakedness is that they will not have any worldy ties to material belongings, even something as simple as clothes. This ritual that transforms selected holy men to Naga can only be done at Kumbh festival.
Photo: Sukdev Baba Shanti, a Sadhu or Hindu holy man from the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, ties his thirteen and half feet long hair as his followers look on at the Kamakhya temple in Gauhati, India, Tuesday, June 21, 2005. Sadhus, or Hindu holy men, are congregating from all parts of the country to take part in the Ambubasi festival at the Kamkahya Temple from June 22.