WEST ELMIRA, N.Y. (WETM) – The worldwide Hindu group that recently moved into a former Catholic church in West Elmira welcomed its leader and spiritual master for a blessing ceremony Wednesday night, drawing people from all over the world.

Bhakti Marga—which bought the former Our Lady of Lourdes Church on West Church St. in West Elmira earlier this year—held a Darshan ceremony open to the public on September 7. The group’s leader and master, Paramahamsa Vishwananda, made his first visit to the United States in six years, leading the attendees in chants, teachings, and offering blessings.

Guru Vishwananda describes the darshan as looking into the soul to give a glimpse of the Divine. “When I look at your soul at that moment, what I see is your Self, your True Self,” Vishwananda described on Bhakti Marga’s website. “And what I see is the beauty of what you hold inside of you. That’s what I want you to see and that’s what I want you to realize for yourself.”

The West Elmira ashram—another word for a Hindu temple—is the group’s first in the United States. The crowd included upwards of 100 people from all over the country, including states like New Jersey, Maryland, Kentucky, Kansas, Michigan and Washington. People also attended from around the world, from countries such as Canada and Portugal.

Sitaram, a soccer coach from Portugal, has been part of Bhakti Marga for ten years. He traveled with family and friends to Elmira for the celebration. He said the Guru’s nonjudgmental philosophy is what attracted him to the group.

“It touched our hearts when you arrive here from the other part of the world and you see this, and you see these new people, also, with an amazing expression they were having when Guruji was singing,” Sitaram said. “Being new, it’s fresh, you know? And you like to experience, you like to live it, you like to learn, how it will be, how it is.”

The group will hold an open house on September 10 and 11. The weekend will include teachings, chants, singing, and brunch.

The group has locations around the world, including countries across Europe, Southeast Asia, South America, Africa, and Australia. Read more about Bhakti Marga in West Elmira here.