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Where shopping is sacred

Natasha Kaufmann's Sala Dharm shop has done so well selling religious items that franchises may soon spring up around the country

Published on October 21, 2007

If you think shopping is just an exercise in materialism, you haven't been to Sala Dharm, a store that takes up two shophouses on Bangkok's Soi Pattanakarn 30. It's owned and operated by model and actress Natasha Kaufmann - and it's good for the soul.

The place is filled with items of gleaming gold and vibrant yellow - gilded Buddha images and sculptures of King Rama V studded with Swaroski crystal and baskets of sangha than items in all sizes.

Thai Buddhists make sangha than merit on birthdays and anniversaries by giving monks everyday essentials, from toothbrushes and soap to umbrellas, light bulbs and, of course, fresh robes.

Sala Dharm is probably Thailand's first and only one-stop sangha than outlet that delivers right across the country.

"We're not trying to turn something spiritual into something material," Natasha says. "This store serves people who are in the habit of shopping for these items for special occasions as a way of supporting Buddhism."

Sala Dharm guarantees that every item is of good quality, which you can't always count on when you buy sangha than in a neighbourhood market or a supermarket. Natasha says everything is carefully selected and all perishable goods are marked with their expiry date.

"We arrange the packages according to the occasion, like Songkran, Mother's Day and birthdays, and there are always new designs," says Natasha, who in fact handles the designing.

Along with everyday items, the popular birthday sets contain Buddha images for specific days of the week. For someone born on a Tuesday, get the one with the reclining Buddha, considered auspicious for that day.

"They're popular because you can buy one either for yourself to make merit on your birthday or as a gift for a friend to help them make merit."

The prices range from a few hundred baht to tens of thousands. They can be custom-made.

Natasha has customers overseas as well as in all parts of Thailand. Sometimes no delivery fee is charged for large orders. "It's our pleasure to also contribute to the merit making. We often offer discounts and special gifts."

White clothing suitable for meditating and the latest books and CDs about dharma are also available.

As a child Natasha loved accompanying her mother and grandmother to the temples. As she grew older she became dissatisfied with the ready-packed sangha than products sold in the market and insisted on at least rearranging them.

"Even these days whenever I go upcountry for work or leisure, I usually bring a basket of sangha than that I've arranged myself, even if I have no particular temple in mind to visit."

Sala Dharm will also organise religious services involving monks, such as blessing new homes and offices. It's an extension of Natasha's "more worldly" business of arranging product launches and other commercial events.

"Some people don't have the time to invite the monks or borrow things from the temple. All they need to do is give us the date and time."

The operation has proved quite successful over the past nine months and, due to popular demand, Natasha is planning to sanction franchises.

A customer completes a purchase and, as she's leaving, Natasha says to her, "A-nu mo thana, kha" - an expression of pleasure to find someone doing a good deed. Natasha has practised dharma with Mae Chee Siri Krinchai and serves as a dharma guide when she has time. Such work doesn't require a special occasion, she points out.

"Dharma means 'nature'. Making merit doesn't just mean making offerings to monks. We should be kind to other people all the time, as well as the animals around us."

Give the shop a call at (02) 318 3549 or 318 3539.

Aree Chaisatien

The Nation

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