Mil­lions to be made from devo­tees’ hair

New Straits Times - - Flair -

Hindu devo­tee Uma, 45, get­ting her head shaved at the Thiruthani Mu­ru­gan Tem­ple in In­dia’s south­ern state of Tamil Nadu. FOR Hindu fol­low­ers, it is an act of de­vo­tion but at the Thiruthani Mu­ru­gan tem­ple and oth­ers across In­dia, there are mil­lions to be made from heads that are shaved and smoth­ered with turmeric paste.

Some days, there are hun­dreds of dis­ci­ples wait­ing be­fore dawn at the hill­top shrine west of Chen­nai to take part in the cen­turies-old tra­di­tional of­fer­ing to the gods.

As they ask the deities for good for­tune and health, tem­ple at­ten­dants col­lect the locks for sale to be used for wigs or fash­ion in­dus­try hair ex­ten­sions.

In­dia has long been the world’s big­gest ex­porter of hu­man hair — in money terms — and busi­nesses say the coun­try earns sev­eral hun­dred mil­lion dol­lars a year from its high-qual­ity locks.

China and Rus­sia are se­ri­ous ri­vals in terms of vol­ume.

Euro­pean coun­tries are the big­gest cus­tomers but a lot is also sold in the rest of Asia, the United States and even Africa.

There are about 10 ma­jor tem­ples, and other smaller ones, in In­dia with a cut of the mar­ket. Some vil­lages also col­lect their in­hab­i­tants’ hair.

The most ex­pen­sive type — cap­tur­ing a quar­ter of the over­all mar­ket — is hair shaved di­rectly from the scalp of one donor. The rest — cheaper cuts sourced from comb waste — fetches a lower price.

Some tem­ples make pil­grims braid their hair be­fore it is cut so that the locks all face the same di­rec­tion.

The hair col­lected at Thiruthani Mu­ru­gan is auc­tioned to pro­cess­ing plants which sell the fin­ished prod­uct as all-hu­man wigs or hair ex­ten­sions.

Busi­ness has to move quickly at the tem­ple, one among the six holy shrines of de­ity Lord Mu­ru­gan.

From four in the morn­ing to sun­down, bar­bers clip away. Pil­grims queue for hours, some­times much longer on fes­ti­val days, to make their sac­ri­fice.

Tens of thou­sands, in­clud­ing women and chil­dren, shave their heads here ev­ery year, ap­ply­ing a bright yel­low paste of turmeric pow­der be­fore of­fer­ing their prayers.

Pil­grims climb 365 steps to reach the shrine, which is open all year round. The profits from the sale of their hair goes to­wards the up­keep of the tem­ple.

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