The Ancient Cistern (古の大石窟 Inishie no Daisekkutsu?, Ancient Stone Cavern) is the fourth dungeon of The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, and serves as the "water-themed" dungeon for the title. It is in this dungeon that Link faces Koloktos and obtains the Whip. It also houses Farore's Flame. It is designed to greatly resemble a Buddhist temple, sharing similar designs and motifs (the main statue resembling a Buddharūpa, as well as the lotus flowers scattered throughout). The rather elegant upper floor of the dungeon is contrasted by the lower floor, a dark and ghastly place filled with Cursed Bokoblins. Purified water is released into the upper area of the facility, while the filtered impurities are processed in the lower area.
The Ancient Cistern is split into two sections. The elegant upper level is filled with pure water and ornate statues. The lower level, by contrast, is dark and deathly, containing contaminated water that jinxes and damages Link if he touches it. After descending to the bottom floor, Link must escape by climbing a long thread which hangs down from the floor above. Cursed Bokoblins will also climb the thread, in an attempt to drag Link back down. At the center of the Ancient Cistern's main chamber is a Great Statue, which Link must move up and down to access different parts of the dungeon. After Link receives the Blessed Idol in the lower floor of the dungeon, the statue will descend on Link, and a group of Cursed Bokoblins will arise around him. If Link fails to escape the crushing statue, an instant Game Over will occur.
The main item of the dungeon is the Whip, which Link receives once he defeats the Stalmaster. After Link obtains the Whip, many of the puzzles and enemies found in the dungeon, such as Bulb-Shaped Switches, require its use.
- Cursed Bokoblin
- Deku Baba
- Fire Keese
- Green ChuChu
- Blue ChuChu
- Quadro Baba
The Ancient Cistern's motif appears to be based off of the 1918 Japanese short story The Spider's Thread. In it, a criminal attempts to escape into a lotus-filled paradise from the depths of hell by climbing a spider's thread that a Buddhist monk drops down; the dungeon's dark, murky lower floor and golden upper floor being connected by a thread is very likely a parallel to this.
The Buddhist monk in the story seems to largely reflect the aesthetics. For example, the large statue in the atrium of the dungeon bears a strong resemblance to statues of Buddha. Additionally, the spinning stone pillars located in the basement are reminiscent of prayer wheels, which are found in Buddhist monasteries. Likewise with Buddhism being a religion, its upper floors come to represent heaven, with its interior floors representing hell; the sole appearance of Cursed Bokoblins in this dungeon also exemplify this as well, coming to bear resemblance to pretas, being reincarnated cursed bloated demons that are forever tormented with hunger and desire.
The water in the Cistern's depths is a reference to how water was used to gaze into the region of hell, and said region was described as the Pool of Blood in the tale of the Spider's Thread.
The inclusion of water being either pure or tainted comes from Shinto roots, stemming from the concept of kegare, where purity is said to be representative of life and the divine, whereas impurity is said to be representative of the dead and the infernal.
In addition, as Taoism is very closely linked with Buddhism, the upper and lower levels of the dungeon could reflect the Yin and Yang motif. The upper part of the dungeon is a shining, sacred temple, while the lower part is a profane, depraved dungeon, reflecting the balance of good and evil that so heavily pervades Taoist faith.
Within core Japanese Buddhist themes and values, one important belief is of how the impermanence of the world also ties to allegiances, concepts, creeds, and values themselves, and this includes how the heavenly and lofty can be just as merciless and evil as the infernal and depraved. To attain enlightenment, one must follow the course of their own life and all it entails with virtue, and balance good with bad, enjoyment with suffering, and to find the spiritual, miraculous, and magical in the material, ordinary, and mundane, to transcend the fleeting corporeal physical world, and even then, the road to salvation and enlightenment is considered a narrow way fraught with peril, and possibly requires oneself to throw themselves into the abyss and face fear and death itself to fully realize the attainment of the truth. This is best exemplified that, though the Cistern itself is symbolic and almost mystical, its true existence is a dungeon and stronghold for its most precious treasure within, with everything beforehand deceptive and deceiving, or brutal and unforgiving into its worst depths, and will not let its prized treasure be held in victory so easily.