Tirupati (Andhra Pradesh): The Tirumala temple in Tirupati is nestled amidst seven sacred hills
Every year over 10 lakh Hindus walk the hallowed halls of the devstanam seeking that all-potent glimpse of Lord Venkateshwara
“The experience is overwhelming. That is why we have gone to such an extent to come to Tirupati, which is not easy,” says a devotee, Rajiv Kanani
Devotees have been helping Lord Balaji pay his debt to Kuber with their donations for nearly two centuries.
However, being the richest temple in the world is not its only claim to fame. What gives the Tirumalay Devasthanam a unique status of reverence among Hindus is the practice of Kalyana Katta or head shaving.
Kalyana Katta is a symbolic gesture of surrendering one's ego to God. 500 barbers cut hair of 10,000 devotees daily for the purpose.
"It is a ritual that everyone follows before going for darshan," says a devotee, Chandramoli Reddy.
However, no one really knows what happens to the tones (over 1000 tonnes) of human hair that lakhs of devotees offer as they get under the barber's knife.
Insiders say that every six hours, the cut hair is collected, put in sealed containers and stored till the day of the annual auction.
The auction attracts the highest bidders from across the globe. Reports have claimed that the hair goes to German and Italian pharmaceutical and cosmetic companies for Rs 7,000 per kilo.
The phenomenal economy of hair at Tirupati is perhaps what makes it so talked about.
"There is a huge market for human hair. In fact, it has major export value for pharma companies. And on the other hand, Kalyana Katta is a big source of revenue for the temple. Hair is sold and lot of revenue comes in,” principal secretary, temple revenue, Dr I V Subba Rao says.
The temple seems to have converted faith into a commercial opportunity. The devotees, however, have no problem with their hair being sold.
For them, the practice of head tonsuring continues to be sacred because it is as old as the faith they follow.