For centuries, Hindu pilgrims have donated their hair in a ritual of purification.
These Hindu pilgrims often offer their hair to deities such as the elephant-headed god Ganesha. Women, men and even children give their hair as offering, and as an act of devotion. According to their scriptures, tonsuring, the hair shaving practice as offering to the gods, should be done at least once in their lifetime. Doing so is regarded as a way of shedding the ego, ridding oneself of sin and making a vow to the gods.
The spiritual implications of wearing someone else’s hair may be devastating. For one, if tonsuring is a way of ridding oneself from sin according to Hindu belief, then all of the ills, spirits and wickedness of that person now dwell in this hairpiece.The Bible also warns to stay away from offering to idols.
Acts 15:29 – That ye abstain from meats offered to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornication: from which if ye keep yourselves, ye shall do well. Fare ye well.
Revelation 2:14 – But I have a few things against thee, because thou hast there them that hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balac to cast a stumblingblock before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed unto idols, and to commit fornication.
A Religious Tangle Over the Hair of Pious Hindus
By SARITHA RAI
Published: July 14, 2004
V. Subhasri regards each pilgrimage she has made to the Hindu temple here as an act of divine deliverance.
When she came to the temple three years ago, Ms. Subhasri, 35, offered her waist-length hair to the temple deity, Venkateshwara, in a sign of absolute devotion. She then prayed that her husband, Satyanarayana Raju, be cured of his acute stomach ulcers.
Last week she was back, offering her hair again in thanks for the recovery of her husband, and saying a new prayer for the success of her older son, Veeraraju, 15.
”He has scored 490 marks out of 600 in his recent school exams and, god willing, he will be a doctor one day,” Ms. Subhasri said, wiping her tears with one end of her sari.
n her devotion, Ms. Subhasri was completely unaware that the hair she offered to her deity was collected along with that of thousands of others each day and eventually turned into high-priced wigs as part of India’s lucrative wig industry. The hair is a significant moneymaker for the temple, Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanam, and for many like it across the subcontinent.
A majority of Hindus, who make up 85 percent of India’s billion-plus population, have their heads shaved at least once in a lifetime as prescribed by Hindu scriptures, and much of India’s hair exports, which totaled $62.5 million last year, come out of the customary Hindu tradition of offering one’s hair at temples.
But if most Indians who offer their hair in religious devotion are unaware that it is made into wigs that are sold abroad — mainly in Europe and the United States — most of those who buy the wigs are equally unaware of the religious aspect involved in the collecting of human hair for commercial use. Or at least they were until recently, when a group of Orthodox Jewish rabbis in Israel declared that wearing wigs made with even one strand of ritually tonsured hair constituted idolatry, and was thus forbidden.
Among Orthodox Jewish women, who observe a code of modesty that prohibits the public display of their hair after marriage, the rabbis’ ruling created an uproar. Thousands of these women, who account for significant numbers of wig sales in the United States, have publicly burned wigs costing thousands of dollars and have rushed to find wigs that are guaranteed to be made of European hair or to get synthetic hair replacements. Many have foregone wigs altogether for snoods or hats to cover their heads.
Like polished diamonds and software, two of its better-known exports, human hair has become a lucrative international business for India. The hair gathered from temples and hair salons is cleaned, processed and sold and in the form of high-priced wigs, hair extensions and toupees, mostly via wig factories in China.
Reaching Tirupati at the end of their pilgrimage from a small town called Kapileswarapuram in the southern state of Andhra Pradesh, the Rajus — Ms. Subhasri, her husband and two teenage sons — joined a crush of people to descend on one of the dozens of thronged community centers in the temple complex.
They stood in one of the snaking lines alongside hundreds of other pilgrims waiting their turn for a free tonsure. When her turn came, Ms. Subhasri sat on a flat, wooden platform, head bowed before one of the dozens of expert barbers. Within minutes, her wavy, black tresses were shorn, and immediately swept away by a broom-wielding temple employee. Bathing in lukewarm water after this ritual, the Rajus joined a milelong line of devotees with shining pates like theirs, and prepared to go into the innermost area of the temple to pray to the deity.
The head shaving ritual is repeated every day by thousands of Indians, both male and female, in the Tirupati temple as a symbol of the surrender of a person’s ego to god.
The Tirupati temple is a sprawling structure which an average of 50,000 pilgrims visit daily. More than a ton of hair is collected each day from the devotees.
”We run through about 20,000 blades daily,” said Ajeya Kallam, the temple’s executive officer. He said the sale of hair brought in $6.17 million last year, adding to the already substantial earnings of India’s richest religious institution. (The temple’s primary income, about $333 million annually, comes from the monetary donations of its faithful and wide-ranging investments.)