How ‘Temple Hair’ Offered as Religious Gift Ends up as Hair Extensions

You hardly ever see monofibre extensions these days; the ones made famous by the likes of Britney Spears and Katie Price. Probably because you can tell them a mile off; they hang down dead straight and you cannot style or cut them properly. Basically they look cheap and nasty and as such, the demand for real hair extensions has grown and grown. But with rumours of sources including Russian prisoners and dead people, can you be sure that the extensions you have paid for and been assured are ethically sourced – really are?

As the price for hair extensions has fallen and they are now not only seen as a purchase for the rich and famous, demand has risen steeply, leading to a supply shortage with more and more clients waiting for decent real hair. This has seemingly led to unscrupulous sources providing the hair and the Daily Mail has uncovered one such source.

In the Hindu temple of Tirumala Venkateswara, which lies on the coastal state of Andhra Pradesh, thousands of Indian women and a few men are seen to be offering up their hair as a religious sacrifice to Lord Venkateswara, the presiding deity. Some women have travelled for hundreds of miles to gift their hair and others have planned the sacrifice for years. They all seek a blessing with the sacrifice of donating their hair and do not expect to be paid for it.

One such lady, a 40 yr old housewife, has been walking to the temple for over 30 hours in her bare feet. This is the fifth time that Pujari Aruna has given up her hair and she is with her family of 25 members and friends who are also there to get their heads shaved. She said, “Offering your hair to the god is a symbolic gesture of surrendering one’s ego and a way of giving thanks for your blessings.” Aruna is thankful because her husband, Pujari Nagraja, 45, made a swift recovery after an accident. Although she does not know exactly what the temple will do with her hair, she has a rough idea, “I don’t know what temple staff will do with it but I am sure they sell it to someone.”

The hair is removed by shaving and takes a few seconds with the average woman’s head yielding around 10oz of hair, worth about £210 in extensions. The candidates usually tie their hair back into ponytails to make it easier for the six hundred and fifty so barbers to shave it quickly where it is put into a basket and then washed.

The temple at Tirumala Venkateswara attracts many tens of thousands of pilgrims in a single day and although it has 18 massive shaving halls, the crowds are so big that women and young girls can wait in the queue for up to five hours. Mayoor Balsara, chief executive of India’s largest exporter of human hair, Sona Devi Trading Company, says, “For poor rural women, their hair is their only vanity. They have saved up to make a once-in-a-lifetime journey. Thousands have made an oath to their gods – they may have asked to be blessed with a child or for a good harvest. Should their wish be fulfilled, they offer their most precious possession as a sign of gratitude.”

Temple hair is much sought after as it has typically never been processed, is stronger and more healthy, has never been dyed or washed with any substance more abrasive than coconut oil and herbal soap and often you will find it has not been cut. And as once where Russian hair was the gold standard of hair extensions, now Indian hair is making its mark as clients are finding that European hair is too thin in diameter for the process whilst Chinese hair, in the meantime, is simply too thick and rigid for use with European clients.

Officials who run the temple argue that the hair would be thrown away if not used and some profit from selling the hair is paid back into the community by way of funding orphanages and hospitals, with an estimated £70 million a year being spent. As for women such as Aruna, they would never dream of asking for money for their hair. A simple blessing is enough.

If you are thinking of getting hair extensions always ask your hair consultant if they have been ethically sourced.

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