An interesting story and slideshow from Colors Magazine:
Every day at the Tirumala Venkateswara Temple in India, about 10,000 people sit cross-legged on the floor of the tonsuring room and let one of the 500 temple barbers shave off their hair. For many Hindu pilgrims, the shave is an intensely moving experience, as they believe that by sacrificing their hair here they will gain Lord Venkateswara’s protection and be cleansed of material debts.
Once the hair hits the floor, however, it enters the world of business. The strands are collected by attendants, packed into large steel bins, washed, and sorted according to length and quality. Twice a year, the stored hair is auctioned off and exported, mainly to the USA, UK and China, where it is used to make hair extensions and wigs. Long, untreated Indian hair is in high demand; the temple’s longest hair sells for RS20,000 (US$375) a kilogram.
Last year, amid concerns that buyers were forming a cartel, conspiring to keep bids low, the temple stopped its open auctioning process and began to sell online instead, through secret tenders. So far, it’s proving extremely lucrative; in 2011, the temple sold 561 tonnes of hair for RS2 billion ($36.9 million).