Hair for the gods at Tiru­mala tem­ple

Thou­sands of devo­tees shave their heads and do­nate the hair at the shrine of Tiru­mala Venkateswara Tem­ple in the hopes of get­ting their prayers an­swered.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - FRONT PAGE - By NEETA LAL

IT IS dubbed the “the world’s largest bar­ber­shop”. The tem­ple shrine of Tiru­mala Venkateswara Tem­ple in In­dia’s south­ern state of Andhra Pradesh at­tracts around 50,000 hair pil­grims on week­ends and nearly twice the num­ber on re­li­gious fes­ti­vals. They go not just to pray, but also to get their hair shaved off.

A ma­jor­ity of the “hair pil­grims” flock here – to one of the world’s rich­est tem­ples – to get their heads ton­sured and of­fer their mane to Lord Venkatesh­wara, an avatar of Lord Vishnu. For most pil­grims, a visit to the tem­ple is not com­plete with­out ton­sur­ing – the rit­ual of shav­ing of all their hair.

The rea­sons for the ton­sure could vary from a good har­vest to the birth of a child, to the re­cov­ery of health from a life-threat­en­ing dis­ease.

The pil­grims, wear­ing their Sun­day best, sit on the floor be­fore a line-up of bar­bers who have tow­els spread across their laps. The devo­tees lower their heads while nim­ble fin­gers get to work and lop off glo­ri­ous locks.

Thou­sands of peo­ple – chil­dren, moth­ers and grand­par­ents – can be seen milling around the gar­gan­tuan tem­ple com­plex wait­ing in queues to get their heads ton­sured. Those who have been through the rigours of ton­sur­ing, sheep­ishly stroke their heads to get used to their new bald sta­tus.

Huge amounts of hair is swept into enor­mous steel bins which are pe­ri­od­i­cally emp­tied by an army of vol­un­teers into burlap sacks. These sacks are then brought to a cen­tral col­lec­tion point where hair is seg­re­gated, spread out and dried.

This in­trigu­ing prac­tice dates back to the ninth cen­tury when devo­tees be­lieved that if they ded­i­cate their hair to the de­ity, their most fer­vent wish will be ful­filled. The Tiru­mala tem­ple is also amongst a hand­ful of Hindu tem­ples that al­low ac­cess to nonHin­dus to en­ter its sanc­tum sanc­to­rum which holds the de­ity.

Due to the heavy rush, the tem­ple of­fers 16 ton­sur­ing halls – two of which run round the clock. For this large-scale ton­sur­ing, the tem­ple trust em­ploys nearly 650 bar­bers, in­clud­ing 60 women, and each of them can shave off an av­er­age of 60 heads in a six-hour shift. Us­ing noth­ing more so­phis­ti­cated than a sharp knife and a bowl­ful of water, the bar­bers can shave a head in a jiffy.

Ac­cord­ing to the tem­ple au­thor­i­ties, the daily av­er­age of 800kg of hair har­vested eas­ily crosses 1,000kg on week­ends and dur­ing peak sea­son. This prac­tice has helped make Tiru­mala Venkateswara Tem­ple one of the rich­est re­li­gious pil­grim­age sites in the world, even out­strip­ping the Vat­i­can and Mecca due to the sheer numbers ar­riv­ing on a daily ba­sis.

Three or four times a year, col­lected hair is auc­tioned. Roughly 100 tonnes of hu­man hair is sold an­nu­ally to com­pa­nies that make hair ex­ten­sions, wigs or fur­ni­ture for mat­tress stuff­ing. The tem­ple has been able to cash in on an ex­po­nen­tial growth in de­mand. This money is re­cy­cled back to the tem­ple and com­mu­nity, in­clud­ing lo­cal hos­pi­tals, re­li­gious schools and pro­vides free meals to needy pil­grims vis­it­ing the tem­ple.

Re­cently, the tem­ple made news by be­com­ing the world’s first tem­ple to e-auc­tion 65,000kg of hu­man hair. The Tiru­mala Tiru­pati Dev­asthanams, the trust which man­ages the af­fairs of the Lord Venkatesh­wara Tem­ple, had as many as 49 traders par­tic­i­pat­ing in the auc­tion.

In­ter­est­ingly, Tiru­mala has also spawned a lu­cra­tive hair busi­ness in In­dia. Thanks to what is now called “tem­ple hair”, In­dia can boast of a gar­gan­tuan hair in­dus­try which is worth a stag­ger­ing US$200mil (RM600mil). Much of this hair comes from Tiru­mala and is mostly ex­ported to the West where it is sold for around US$250 (RM750) per kg, oc­ca­sion­ally even fetch­ing an as­tound­ing US$800 (RM2,400) per kg.

In­dian hair bro­kers typ­i­cally sell the hair to fac­to­ries in In­dia where it is sorted by length and goes through the first stages of

Cut­ting edge:

us­ing noth­ing more so­phis­ti­cated than a sharp knife and a bowl­ful of water, the bar­bers of Tiru­mala Venkateswara Tem­ple in In­dia can shave a head in a jiffy.

Hair from the Tem­ple is brought to a cen­tral col­lec­tion point where it is seg­re­gated, spread out and dried.

Hair pil­grims go to the Tiru­mala Venkateswara Tem­ple not just to pray, but also to get their hair shaved off.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Malaysia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.