Sketching in India? Take this along…

A few months ago, a friend wrote to me saying he’d been told by the guard on duty at an old monument outside Bangalore that he wasn’t allowed to sketch there. That surprised me, ( i’ve never been stopped from sketching myself) but apparently it wasn’t an isolated incident. The controversy began when artists were not allowed to sit with sketchbooks near monuments at Mamallapuram. That led to a successful campaign petitioning for permission to sketch at monuments. ( Thank you, Ganapathy Subramaniam)
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So here’s the simple verdict: You CAN sketch at monuments, just keep it simple: a sketchbook and your supplies are totally fine, but an easel and a more elaborate setup may not be okay. ( Here is a link to an article that explains it in more detail)

If you know you’re going to sketch at an old monument, it’s best to print and carry around a copy of this document with you. ( Thank you Kishan Dev of the newly formed Usk group in Mumbai for sending me a copy of this letter) If someone were to tell you  you can’t sketch, show them the letter.

Happy Sketching…There aren’t many places in the world as exciting to sketch in as India!


About Suhita Shirodkar

obsessive-sketcher. graphic designer.
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13 Responses to Sketching in India? Take this along…

  1. rhodadraws says:

    I toured India with a small group a few years ago, with my sketching supplies, and I was glad of the opportunity to sketch in several historic sites where photography was not allowed. It would not occur to me that sketching might be prohibited. There is always the possibility that a low-level official wants to flex his muscles. I was told once, by a uniformed guard in a Marin County courtroom, that I was not allowed to sketch (I wanted to practice courtroom sketching, just to see if I could do it). He even confiscated my drawing. I didn’t have the courage to argue with him about my rights, but I did offer to sign the artwork.


    • Rhoda, I’ve never had an issue either, but this seems newish: a friend that travels to India regularly was asked a couple of times to out away his sketchbook, aw were the sketchers who created the petition, so I thought it would be easy enough to just carry a printout of the document… stuff like this happens all the time, it’s not just an India thing: I was once asked to leave Filoli Gardens in Woodside because I was sketching in my book, while the docent said nothing to photographers with huge tripods…


  2. Hi Suhita, Thanks for sharing this news. Yes it is indeed a bizarre thing, but the ASI was sensitive enough to resolve this quickly, thanks to the torrent of signatures for the petition. It would certainly be a good idea to carry a copy of this for sometime!


  3. Barbara Weeks says:

    There are towns in Florida in the USA where it’s against the law to sketch. It’s new and being protested, so we’ll see what happens.


  4. Lynn says:

    A short time ago I read about a prohibition from sketching someplace in Florida I think. An artist from that area explained that in that particular case it was the sketchers own fault because the area in question was historic, designed for tourists and the high rent paying store owners objected to the fact that sidewalks were blocked and so not allowing their potential customers to get by as well as a large number of the people encamped really with easels, booth tables, chairs – the whole thing apparently – and were making sales without paying a cent of rent. This had gone on for over 6 months and finally the sketchers lost.

    If this was the case, I’d have to say the ‘sketchers’ involved were guilty of pushing their interest too far, They seemed to have been far beyond pleasurable hobby-type sketching and so ruined the opportunity for others.


  5. Hi Suhita, when I traveled in India in 2014, there were indeed places where I was told sketching was not allowed, most notably, the Taj Mahal. I was told by our guide that any sketching supplies would be confiscated in the bag search upon entry. So instead, she took me to sketch across the Yamuna river to the back side of the building. Very disappointing. I was also told sketching wasn’t allowed at the nearby Fort, although the guard let me do a quick sketch anyway.
    Hopefully, things will be different when I go back…


  6. Stephanie, Lynn, even with a new regulation, it’s hard to get the message out and make sure everyone has it right in a huge diverse country like India… I just thought I’d out this out since it’s easy enough to just carry around a printout in case you’re told to leave. That said, the regulation makes it clear you may not be allowed easels and such: good to know if you are planning on carrying one.


  7. very interested to read this exchange. I’ve been leading sketching groups to India for 10 years, mainly in the South, with no problem anywhere, although it’s true, we were not allowed to take sketching materials into the Taj Mahal which was disappointing. I draw wherever I’m travelling, never with an easel but with my book and drawing/painting materials all in my hand. It’s like a magical international passport, opening so many doors and enabling me to connect with people throughout the globe. Long may it last!


    • Maxine, I am originally from India, travel back often, sketch everywhere and have never had an issue… but both my friend who had an issue and the people who started the campaign are from the south. and sketcher friends who live in Mumbai say there have been issues. That’s not to say it’s common at all, but i thought I’d put the document out since it’s easy enough to carry it along and get to sketch everywhere. I’m with you, sketching is an amazing connection to a place, and sketching n India is doubly fantastic: so much people interaction, and my favorite bit: so many cups of chai offered to me by complete strangers in markets and streets I sketch on. I love it!


  8. I’ve been stopped several times at sites in South India and told not to sketch. I wasn’t even using an easel or anything – just a sketchbook. I do not think this was a case of low-level officials trying to “flex their muscles” either: they were actually helpful and gave me directions towards other monuments nearby they said I was allowed to sketch, so I think they really were trying to enforce the policy and weren’t just being obstinate. Hopefully this clarification on the policy will help – I’ll definitely print it out and bring it with me next time I go to India.


  9. Hi Suhita, thanks for sharing this information and also uploading the letter for easy access. Fro the petition one can observe that this issue has been faced by many across the country and not to any region. sometimes the officials on the ground do not care, sometimes they do. also ASI classifies monuments which come under this restriction. Now this restriction is gone.
    Its a good idea to carry this letter for a while.


    • Ganapathy, first of all, thanks so much for initiating the campaign. I am sure there were so many more cases than I heard of: the only ones I pointed out were in South India, and I think that’s because my friend Joel who has a comment here was near Bangalore when he was asked, very politely , to not sketch, and many people assume this is an issue only in north India-like in Agra at the Taj Mahal. But most of all, I just posted this as a resource: it’s really useful to carry around, so we can all sketch: most people that follow my blog share a love for drawing on location, and I thought the letter would be useful to them. Thanks again for the campaign and for clarifying and explaining this.


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