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Crores from Tirupati hair

Hyderabad, Feb. 2: Imagine Angelina Jolie cutting someone to size with an imperious shake of her head — that majestic mane cascading down her shoulders may just be a wig made of hair from Tirupati.

If wigmakers and e-traders are to be believed, many foreign film stars have begun donning wigs made of hair tonsured at the Balaji temple in Tirumala, some 750km from Hyderabad. Over 15,000 heads, including those of at least 5,000 women, are shaved daily at Tirumala.

Since 2011, the Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanam (TTD) has earned Rs 200 crore in e-auctions of hair donated by devotees as part of their vow to Lord Venkateswara. There is a huge market for hair in the US, Europe and China, sources said.

In an e-auction last Wednesday, the TTD sold 51,758kg of human hair for Rs 83.53 crore, the TTD executive officer, L.V. Subramanyam, said.

“So far we have sold Rs 200 crore worth of human hair (about 6.2 lakh kg) in the last two years. Another two lakh kgs are available in our stock, which we will sell in the next two months.”

A Mumbai wigmaker, Vidyasagar Saxena, said women’s long hair was popular abroad as “Tirupati hair” and was used to make wigs and hair extensions. “Parisians prefer it as it is nurtured with organic oils, rather than chemicals by Indian women,” he said.

The tonsured hair from men is used in coat linings. The Chinese are known to mix it with local hair to make cheap wigs and hair extensions.

The e-auctions were jointly conducted by the TTD and the Material Scrap Trading Corporation. “E-auctions are fetching better prices and also international participation,” said a TTD official in charge of the tonsuring halls at Tirumala.

It is estimated that about a crore people tonsure their heads annually at the hill shrine. In peak season, 45,000-50,000 people get their heads tonsured daily at the TTD’s 16 tonsuring halls, two of which stay open round the clock.

The hair collected in Tirumala is cleaned and dried at controlled temperatures and stored in categorised bins at a TTD warehouse in Tirupati. It is broadly divided into six grades depending on the length and texture.

Remy hair — which is long and uniformly trimmed — has a big market in Europe and the US, where it is woven into wigs. There is huge demand for non-remy hair — broken and short — in China, where wigs are made and sold to the American and African markets.

Some 650 barbers work for the TTD, including 60 women. Each of them is trained to shave about 60 heads during a six-hour shift. Rural women of coastal Andhra and Tamil Nadu grow long hair and offer it to Lord Venkateswara in a custom called “Niluvu Dopidi” (complete offer).