Why should we offer our hair, a dirty part of our body, to Balaji? And as this hair is later sold, kya ye shraddha ka dhanda nahi hain?
We offer our hair to Balaji to express our love for him.
Love is expressed in two ways: by what we give to our beloved and by what we give up for the sake of our beloved. For example, children can show their love for their parents by studying well and giving them a glowing report card. And they can also show their love by giving up playing before exams so as to focus on studies. Similarly, we can express our devotion for God by giving him precious things like jewels and also by giving up for his sake those things that distract us from him.
One prominent distraction is hair. Though we may say that hair is dirty, we consider it dirty only after it is cut off from the head. As long as it is on the head, we consider it a sign of beauty – a part of our hairstyle. We often obsess over it, arranging it, combing it and peeking frequently into a mirror to see if it needs to be re-arranged. Our obsession with hair makes us more infatuated with our body and thereby distracts us from deeper spiritual contemplation.
That’s why the Vedic-wisdom tradition urges us to curb this distraction. In keeping with this guideline, monks shave their heads permanently. The rest of us are recommended to at least shave our head when we go on a pilgrimage. By this, we express our devotion.
3 Doesn’t this make a business out of our faith? To God by giving up for his sake that which is so dear to us: our beloved hair. For women especially, this is no small sacrifice.
When we shave our head thus at Tirupati, what does Balaji see when the door to his house opens? He is not baal-graahi; he is bhaava-graahi4. He doesn’t see kale baal, saphed baal, dandruff waale baal5. He sees the sacrifice, the devotion, the faith that is expressed through that hair.
Even a swan can separate milk from water and accept just the milk. God is the supreme hamsa, the paramahamsa. Why can he not separate the devotion from the hair and accept the devotion? If we think he can’t, then that’s probably because we can’t see beyond the dandruffs to the devotion.
Does this ritual make a business out of our faith? Not at all.
Anyone with even introductory knowledge of Indian traditions knows that the tradition of offering hair at a pilgrimage long predates the modern business of mass-producing wigs. Due to the popularity of wigs in today’s world, discarded human hair is in great demand. If the hair that for centuries was just being brushed away as waste can be easily recycled to gain money for opening schools, hospitals and orphanages, then what’s wrong with that? As it is, many modern people are going to spend money on wigs. Why not let that money come to God and through him go to the needy? It
4 He is eager not for hair, but for devotion.
5 He doesn’t see black hair, white hair, dandruff-infested hair. It is not that the ritual of shaving the hair was created to make money by selling hair. Such a notion arises from one’s ignorance of history.
So the practice of cutting hair is primarily meant to give us an opportunity for expressing our devotion to God by sacrificing something dear for his sake. The money that is made out of the hair is just an incidental by product.
ye shraddha ka dhanda nahi hai, ye waste ka dhanda hai. akalmandi ki baat hai6.
6 This does not make a business out of our faith. It makes a business out of waste matter. It is an intelligent thing.