The Mughal Suite is located at the end of a private hall extending from the central courtyard and includes a bedroom, large dressing area, bathroom, seating area composed of marble screens on the rooftop above (the Jali Pavilion), and private garden. Appropriately, it is located next to the Mughal Garden, a space equally inspired by Doris Duke’s (1912–93) travels in the Indian subcontinent.
The history of the Mughal Suite predates the history of Shangri La. During her 1935 honeymoon travels in India, Duke became enamored by Mughal art, particularly architecture dating to the reign of India’s three “great” emperors, Akbar (r. 1556–1605), Jahangir (r. 1605–27), and Shah Jahan (r. 1628–58). After visiting the marble tombs, palaces, mosques and gardens of cities like Agra and Delhi, Duke decided to create a Mughal-inspired bedroom suite for her home, which was then planned to be a newlywed wing on the grounds of El Mirasol, the Palm Beach home of her mother-in-law Eva Stotesbury. The Cromwells (Doris Duke and her husband James Cromwell) soon enlisted the Delhi-based British architect Francis B. Blomfield to oversee the creation of a marble suite inspired by seventeenth-century Mughal monuments, including the Taj Mahal (from 1632) in Agra and the Red Fort (1639–48) in Delhi. The actual marble work—including seven large door jalis (perforated marble screens) for the bedroom and four small window jalis and a dado (lower wall) with inlaid floral patterns for the bathroom, among other things—was sub-contracted to the India Marble Works firm in Agra, with Blomfield serving as chief designer and quality control.
In August 1935, the Cromwells arrived in Hawai‘i and soon thereafter abandoned the idea of living in Palm Beach in favor of building a new home on the southern shore of O‘ahu. The marble commission was well underway by this point, but its plans were readily transferrable to the Hawaiian context. The suite was completed in late 1938, and the Cromwells moved in on Christmas Day of that year. By that time, they had acquired a number of furnishings for the space, including inlaid mother-of-pearl Syrian chests (65.46) and tables; Roman- and Islamic-period Syrian glass (47.117); Persian-style figural paintings (11.1.1); and Central Asian embroideries, which served as bed quilts, pillow cases and wall coverings. Much of this material had been purchased during the Cromwells’ 1935 honeymoon and later during their 1938 Middle East tour. In ensuing years, the bedroom would become increasingly Indian in appearance, as Duke acquired a number of Indian textiles and carpets (81.12) whose red surfaces beautifully complemented the white marblework commissioned in 1935.
The history of the Mughal Suite underscores the importance of travel and patronage in the evolution of Shangri La. It was during her honeymoon trip that Duke first fell in love with Mughal architecture—and by extension Islamic art in general (the honeymoon also included brief visits to Jordan and Egypt). After realizing that the commissioned Mughal Suite would form the nucleus of their Hawaiian home, the Cromwells seem to have resolved to “Islamicize” the property as a whole and fill it with Islamic art collections. As early as January 1937, they began exploring Iranian architectural models, particularly those associated with the city of Isfahan. That May, they embarked on a week-long trip to Morocco, and the result was a second major act of patronage (the ordering of custom-made plaster and wood elements for the foyer and living room). By the time the Cromwells moved into the Mughal Suite in December 1938, Shangri La featured distinctly Indian, Moroccan, and Iranian architectural spaces, as well as furnishings and works of art from Central Asia, Egypt, Iran and Syria, among other places.