On any given day, over 30,000 devout Hindu pilgrims trek to India's Tirumala Tiropati and other temples across the country to have their heads shaved in a ritual known as "tonsure." Most of these devotees are unaware that their hair will soon ado the heads of fashion-motivated women throughout the world.
Yet, far from being played as pawns for profit, they're simply following the ancient tradition of surrendering their vanity and ego to their temple deity as prescribed by Hindu scriptures.
At Tirumala Tiropati alone - the largest and richest of all Hindu temples in India - one ton of hair is reportedly collected each day. To handle the crushing demand for tonsure, Tirumala Tiropati Devasthanam has the largest barbershop in the world, which employs no less than 600 tonsurers (barbers) - including 100 women.
In previous times, the temple burned the hair, or sold it to makers of oil filters and even mattresses (for stuffing). But with the high demand for quality hair extensions, a business boom has ensued that continues to bring millions of dollars to Hindu temples throughout the land. Auctions are held each month where huge bundles of hair are sold to the highest bidders.
The Indian govement oversees the distribution of the monies procured from tonsure and imposes strict regulations on the contributions that temples must make with the proceeds, including building and maintaining schools, supporting hospitals and medical care, feeding the impoverished, and much more.