The March issue of Allure offers a story behind some of the most prized extensions, and it's not a pretty picture. More than 500 tons — yes, tons — of human hair come from Tirumala, a temple of the Vaishnava sect of Hinduism in southern India. Women grow their hair to their waists, then have their heads shaven as a symbol of religious devotion. After processing, that hair becomes extensions sold in posh salons in the United States.
Why do they have the hair? Since the ninth century, devout Hindus have visited the temple to pay respects to the resident deity through a procedure called tonsuring. This ritual head shaving is a gesture of devotion. By giving up their hair, they believe the god will then grant them any wish. Quite often, this is the first time that the hair, which has never been treated with anything harsher than coconut oil and herbal Ayurvedic soap, has been cut.
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Where does the money go? After being cleaned and processed, the hair is sold at auction and the temple funds schools and medical centers with their portion of the profits . . after part of the proceeds go to the various parties involved from the extension makers to the distributors. This makes Tirumala one of the richest religious pilgrimage sites in the world, earning about $20.6 million annually. Their chief accounts officer says, "Our deity is now the richest deity in the world."
Do the women know? When asked by the reporter, many of the women did not know what happened to their sacrifice at Tirumala, and they certainly did not know of the high price their locks can fetch. (After all, $3,000 is more than triple the average yearly per capita income in India.) While most of the profits do go to the temple, it doesn't sit right with me that the devotees are kept in the dark about this multimillion-dollar industry.
As the article concludes, I'm still pondering the final questions: Would it matter to them? Should it matter to us? Check out the story when you have a chance, and share your thoughts in the comments.