“Though I have only heard through the media that he is not coming but we are not at all disappointed as it is his personal decision. The doors of Golden Temple are open for any individual of this world and Obama can come here anytime,” Gurbachan Singh, jathedar (head priest) of Akal Takht, highest temporal seat of Sikh religion, told IANS.
Obama’s proposed visit to Golden Temple, the holiest of Sikh shrines in the world, ran into a controversy over the headgear he would wear to enter the shrine.
Under Sikh religious traditions, every devotee to the shrine has to keep his head covered.
“We had made our stand very clear that the US president Barack Obama is free to cover his head in whatever way he feels comfortable; he can use a cap, cloth or a scarf. He should not use a military hat or a metal object. The Queen of England had also visited Harmandar Sahib, by covering her head with a feathered hat and nobody objected to it,” Gurbachan Singh added.
A White House security team, which visited India last month, was not in favour of Obama wearing the traditional scarf to cover his head during his visit to the Golden Temple, sources here said.
The scarf, they felt, may convey an image of him appearing to be a Muslim, an impression the Obama team would like to avoid in view of past experiences.
Right-wing critics in the US were quick to seize on pictures of Obama dressed as a Somali elder on a visit to Africa in 2006 and tried to portray Obama, a Christian by faith but whose grandfather was Muslim, to be a closet Muslim who was under attack by conservative America.
Avtar Singh Makkar, president of the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC), which manages the shrine, said they had not raised any objection to the way Obama covered his head.
"Why should we raise any objection with the ways of covering his head. He is free to do it as per his own discretion in whichever way he feels comfortable," Makkar said.
"Countless non-Sikhs, from across the world, pay obeisance at Golden Temple everyday but we have never raised any objections over the style of covering their heads," he added.
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper visited the Golden Temple in November last year. British monarch Queen Elizabeth and her husband Prince Phillip had visited it in October 1997. The queen wore a hat during her visit.
Despite the earlier uncertainty about Obama visiting the Golden Temple, this city was Wednesday going ahead with plans to roll out the red carpet -- security being intensified and a cleanliness drive getting under way.
Sikh community leaders and administration officials here said they were optimistic the trip would go through.Obama, officials said, was scheduled to visit the Golden Temple and Khalsa College in Amritsar Nov 7 during his first visit to India as US president.
"We have so far not received any intimation about the cancellation of Obama's visit to Amritsar. We have beefed up security in the entire area and a massive cleanliness drive is also on," K.S. Pannu, deputy commissioner of Amritsar, told IANS.
The Golden Temple is a two-storeyed marble building that has plates of pure gold on the outer and inner walls, on the roof and dome of the building.Every visitor to the shrine has to cover his or her head with a cloth and remove their shoes before entering the premises.