|Sunday 24 June, 2001 |
Temple Hair Sale
Human hair is a lucrative business in India. Companies export long hair to the West where it is used for wigs and hair extensions, whilst the shorter hair is mainly sold to Chinese firms who extract amino acids from it.
For large temples, where it is considered auspicious for pilgrims to have their heads shaved, the clippings are a major source of income.
At the Venkateshwara Temple in south India more than 75 tonnes of hair are sold annually, raising nearly £4 million for the temple's charities. Crispin Thorold reports for The World Today.
The Venkateshwara Temple, at Tirumala in the south Indian State of Andhra Pradesh, is thought to attract more pilgrims than Jerusalem, Rome or Mecca.
Over 18 million devotees visit every year to pay their respects to an incarnation of Vishnu; the God that Hindus believe protects and sustains all that is good in society.
The temple is India's richest; something that P Krishnaiah, the executive officer of the temple's managing committee, attributes to extraordinary faith:
‘People believe that this Lord represents Lord Vishnu. Normally people feel that Gods cannot be seen. But people believe here is a God that is seen. That is how people are willing to donate large sums of money, because they have that faith.’
Some estimates put Tirumala's annual income at a billion rupees, which is a staggering £15 million ($23 million). Most of this comes from direct donations, but a significant proportion is raised by the sale of human hair as even the very humblest visitor can offer as much as his wealthier neighbours.
In two large halls, hundreds of barbers work around the clock, tonsuring 12,000 pilgrims every day.
Siddiah is the latest member of his family to become a temple barber. He explains why so many devotees are prepared to lose their locks:
‘The pilgrims come to Tirumala and donate their hair. The reason they do this is when a head is shaved the person loses their beauty.'
|'So the devotees who come here want to donate their hair, because a Hindu feels giving hair to the Lord is more important than giving money.’ |
This hair is collected and sorted into four types. Long women's hair and grey hair are the most highly sort varieties, but there is also considerable demand for short hair at Tirumala's regular sales.
Kishore Kumar is from Gupta Enterprises, a Madras-based firm that is one of India's biggest exporters of human hair. He explains the many uses of hair:
‘What we collect from the temples is used all over the world. Mostly it goes to Italy, a lot of wig manufacturers are there, and a lot of hair extension companies are there.’
|‘The shorter hair is primarily used for the extraction of a protein called El-Cystine. This protein is an amino acid used in food preservatives and various other things.’ |
Importers say that Indian hair is the best money can buy, and good profits can be made.
Werner Diaber is a software engineer in his native Germany, but twice a year he visits India to buy as much hair as he can carry. He explains the desire for Indian human hair in the West:
‘They are the strongest hair and the most beautiful hairs, and the Indian women they have very long hairs.’
‘It is a lucrative thing for everybody, because in the Western World these hair extensions are getting very popular now. And if you manage to get the hairs here for a reasonable price you can make money.’
On this trip Werner was attempting to carry home two suitcases, two holdalls and a cardboard box all full of hair. If he managed to get the 40 kilos back to Germany he would make over £1500 profit (nearly $2500 profit).
Tirumala's income from human hair is in a different league. Last year they made just under £4 million ($6 million).
The money that is raised at the temple funds accommodation and other facilities for the pilgrims. The rest goes to a charitable foundation that runs numerous organisations including three hospitals, an orphanage, a university, and religious training institutions.
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| Locks Of Love || || |
|The American Locks of Love project, based in Florida, collects donations of hair from young people and then uses it to weave wigs for children from deprived families who are unable to afford to buy human-hair wigs. |
Donations must be at least 10 inches in length and can be sent through the mail.
The hair is then made into wigs for children who have mainly suffered from who the medical condition alopecia areata.
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| Russian Hair Extensions || || |
|In September 2000 Russian customs officials reported that 200kg of women's hair had been legally exported in the first three months of the year. |
Good quality Russian hair is regularly used to create hair extensions in the West.