Say Tirupati, and Laddus must surely be among first things that come to the mind. The most sought-after offering is also tightly rationed, with each devotee getting only two laddus and that too only after the darshan at Tirumala.

But the coveted laddus can be yours if you are a woman, have a tress at least 31 inches long, and are ready to offer it.

The Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanam will from April 1 offer five laddus to women who offer their hair.

The demand in the UK and the US for hair extensions and cosmetic products with hair extracts means turning faith into fashion has become big business, earning major temples and exporters more than $300 million last year.

The Tirupati Devasthanam, says Chennai-based hair exporter A. L. Kishore, can sell the long tresses for well over Rs 25,000 a kg. And, if clipped — so that the cuticles are aligned and intact — before tonsuring, it can be sold as remy hair (finest quality) and fetch even more. In 2012, the Devasthanam auctioned in excess of 600 tonnes of human hair at an average price of Rs 9,000-10,000 a kg.

The donated human hair (sorted by length) is stored in the vast warehouses of the Devasthanam and sold through an auction once every 3-4 months. In 2011, it introduced e-auction (through Metal Scrap Trading Corporation Ltd) after allegations surfaced of manipulation by some bidders.

The hair lifted from the auction is processed and exported to the US, the UK, France, Germany and Hong Kong, where it is converted into wigs, hair extensions, and other coiffures. Men’s hair (which is usually short) is used as a key raw material for a variety of cosmetic products.

ravikumar.r@thehindu.co.in

(This article was published on March 15, 2013)
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