Fabulous hair from the temples of India

IN HER book Hair: Sex, Society, Symbolism Wendy Cooper, suggests that hair and sexuality are linked because the sprouting of body hair coincides with the first stirring of randiness and sexual awakening. It is for this reason that the hair weave game is flourishing in South African culture.

Once reserved for prostitutes, fly girls and celebrities, now older women, moms, teens, civil servants, corporate types and pastors' wives have realised that hair extensions create dramatic and sexy personae.

The trendiest and most expensive hair right now is Remy hair. One of South Africa's top hair dealers, Gavin Stollar, chief executive of Diva Divine Hair, says this is the most popular hair with celebrities.

The glorious hair comes straight from Indian temples. This is the hair that women tonsure as an offering to God. This practice is ancient, with more than 3000 years of Indian history, and originates from Hindu religion and philosophy.

The idea of tonsuring hair at temples is that the woman is willing to sacrifice her beauty to God by removing her hair, her most precious personal possession.

The money raised at the temple pays for accommodation and other necessities for pilgrims. The rest goes to a charitable foundation that runs numerous organisations including three hospitals, an orphanage, a university and religious training institutions.

"We are proud to say that we are one of the few in this country who source hair from temple hair auctions and make beautiful hairpieces with it. It is the best that money can buy," Stollar says.

"It is not only the strongest, but also the most beautiful hair. The cuticle of this hair is still healthy and intact since Indian girls rarely have chemical treatment. Another advantage is that Indian women have very long hair that is flexible, durable and has a lovely texture," Stollar says.

"It is naturally thick and lustrous, so it gives the best possible styling and installation options for extensions. The hair is also naturally dark, so it works great with most braiding and weaving applications for black women."

The reincarnation of temple hair as a beauty accessory started as a relatively humble affair. Until the early 1960s temples simply burnt the hair it collected. Citing pollution, the Indian government banned the practice in the 1990s. Then wig makers began seeking raw materials at the Tirumala temple.

Do celebs know that it is someone else' s hair?

Many celebrities refused to comment, saying it was too sensitive an issue to talk about.

One celebrity, who does not want to be identified, says when she learnt the hair came from Indian temples she was disturbed.

"I am a staunch Christian and the Bible states clearly that I should not use things offered to other gods," she says. "I have to deal with the guilt that I am wearing human hair from Hindu temples every day. I do not want to remove it because it makes me look beautiful. When I'm beautiful I feel good about myself."

Actress Palesa Mocuminyane says she was also shocked when she discovered the truth.

"I nearly died of shock, but I thank God for human hair because it has changed our lives. We can have long and soft hair without having to grow it for years," Mocuminyane says.

Model Bonang Matheba says she was shocked too at first.

"I was shocked when I heard that it was real human hair from India. I consoled myself with the knowledge that this was a global trend and that the women gave away their hair willingly. I can't imagine myself without my weaves."