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Wikipedia mentions this about the Ribhus:

Ribhus are depicted in some legends of the Vedic literature as three sons of the goddess of morning light named Saranyu and Hindu god Indra. In other legends, such as in the Atharvaveda, they are sons of Sudhanvan, which means good archer.

In Chapter XV of Book 2 of Vishnu Puran Ribhu is mentioned as a son of Brahma.

In either legends, they are famous for their creative abilities, innovation and they design chariots, the magic cow of plenty, channels for rivers, and tools for Indra and other gods, which makes many envious. Rigveda Book 1 Hymn 20 mentions:

1 FOR the Celestial Race this song of praise which gives wealth lavishly Was made by singers with their lips.

2 They who for Indra, with their mind, formed horses harnessed by a word, Attained by works to sacrifice.

3 They for the two Nāsatyas wrought a light car moving every way: They formed a nectar-yielding cow.

4 The Ṛbhus with effectual prayers, honest, with constant labour, made Their Sire and Mother young again.

5 Together came your gladdening drops with Indra by the Maruts girt, With the Ādityas, with the Kings.

6 The sacrificial ladle, wrought newly by the God Tvaṣṭar's hand— Four ladles have ye made thereof.

7 Vouchsafe us wealth, to him who pours thrice seven libations, yea, to each Give wealth, pleased with our eulogies.

8 As ministering Priests they held, by pious acts they won themselves, A share in sacrifice with Gods.

I find them similar to Ashwinis in a way that they also win the right to receive sacrifice but they're clearly not the same since the above verse mentions them creating a chariot for the Ashwinis. Also, wiki mentions them as having made their parents young again which is somewhat similar to what the Ashwinis did with Rishi Chyavan but then the rishi was not related to them.

I want to know the correct genealogy and function of these Ribhus since they seem to be even a step ahead of Tvashtar in their craft. Is there story mentioned in detail in any scripture?

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The Ribhus are the three sons of Angiras' son Sudhanvan. This chapter of the Aitareya Brahmana of the Rig Veda briefly describes their story:

[T]he Ribhus by fervor among the gods won the drinking of Soma. For them they desired to arrange it at the morning pressing; them Agni with the Vasus repelled from the morning pressing. For them they sought to arrange it at the midday pressing; them Indra with the Rudras repelled from the midday pressing. For them they desired to arrange it at the third pressing; them the All- gods energetically repelled, (saying) 'They shall not drink here, not here.' Prajapati said to Savitar 'These are thy pupils; do thou drink together with them.' Be it so, replied Savitar, 'Do thou drink round them on both sides.' Prajapati drank round them on both sides; these two inserted verses without mention (of the deity), intended for Prajapati, are recited round (the hymn) for the Ribhus, 'The maker of fair forms for aid' and 'Let Vena here impel those born of Prishni' ; verily thus does Prajapati drink on both sides of them. Therefore does one of high rank honour at his table him whom he desires. The gods had loathing of those because of the human scent; they interposed these inserted verses 'In whom the mother' and 'To the father'.

So the other Devas ostracized the Ribhus because they used to be human. This chapter of Shaunaka's Brihaddevata describes how they became Devas:

In former times, there were three sons of Sudhanvan, son of Angiras, Ribhu, Vibhvan, and Vaja; and they became pupils of Tvashtar. Tvashtar instructed them in every art of which he was a master. The All Gods, who were thoroughly versed in the arts challenged them. They then made for all (the gods) vehicles and weapons. They made the nectar-yielding cow - the draught of immortality is called nectar - of Brihaspati; then for the Ashvins a divine car with three seats, and for Indra his two bay steeds; also what (they did) through Agni who had been dispatched (to them) by the gods. When he had said "One cup," and when they had conversed in heaven (with the stanza) "The eldest said," they fashioned the (four) cups, as had been said, gladdened by him. And Tvashtar, and Savitar, (and) the god of gods, Prajapati, summoning all the gods, bestowed immortality (on the Ribhus).

So it is the act of turning one cup of Soma into four cups that led to them becoming Devas.

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    Quite interesting. I am surprised that their story didn't make it to any Puran though since it is probably the only example of humans turning into immortals! Btw Angiras had three sons - ‎Utathya, Samvartana and ‎Brihaspati - is Sudhanva one of those or someone else? – Dr. Vineet Aggarwal Jan 24 '18 at 5:18
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Rbhus are the Divine Artisans. Having attained to divinity by virtue of their action and knowledge, these deities work to help man to attain divinity.

I am quoting from the book RigVeda Mandala 1, R.L.Kashyap.

The RV (Rig Veda) attaches equal importance to all aspects of life; it does not have rigid compartments of worldly life and spiritual life. It does not regard the purohit superior to the artisan. Rbhus are the Gods, Divine Artisans who fashion the subtle body in us. They make the parents young.

The SuktAs Rv 1.20,1.110, 1.111, 4.33 - 4.37 are some of the SuktAs describing the power of the Rbhus.....

The actions of the Rbhus are mentioned in symbolic language only. It is clear that without resort to the hidden symbolic meaning, it is not possible to explain these hymns which are like riddles.

They are three: Rbhu, Vibhva and VAja. The plural denotes their collective. And due to their association all are indicated by the word Rbhu, the eldest of them. The speciality of each of them is celebrated by the name itself. By means of intellect and activity, Rbhu, the eldest, builds the forms conforming to the qualities of Immortality. Vibhava brings about it's extension. VAja effects the plentitude of the Divine Light and Substance. They are called the carpenters, the artisans of immortality for man.

And, here is the Mantra which depicts them making parents young again.

YuvAna pitarA punah satyamantrA rjuyavah rbhavo vishti akrata ||

The Rbhus, the truth-thoughted, desirous of the straightt path, made young again the parents by their pervading (mind and body).

RV 1.20.4

The commentary on it explains the symbolism as follows:

Heaven and Earth are the Parents of man, the evolving being. The Earth symbolizing his gross physical body and it's consciousness and the Heaven standing for his mind and mentality are the two ends of his normal existence. They are time-worn and become old. The Rbhus, Powers of illumination, artisans of immortality, bring in streams of Truth from above and pervade the mind and body of man with their rejuvenating currents, making them fresh and young again. Bearers of Truth in their workings, they seek the straight course and go wherever it is prepared and ready.

And, here is another Mantra, where Rbhus is being depicted to divide a bowl (that was crafted by Twastar) into four:

Uta tyam chamasam navam tvashtur devasya nishkrtam, akarta chaturah punah ||

And this bowl of Twashtri, new and perfected, You made again into four.


RV 1.20.6

The commentary on this Mantra, which tries to bring out the symbolism in it, is worth noting:

Twastri, the Divine Architect, fashions the material body of man which is to be the base of his development, the first means of his journey to the divine goal.

Man builds himself on this foundation in the full figure of his soul, develops his various faculties and powers of expression and embodiment. He seeks the aid of the Gods, especially the Rbhus --- the fashioning powers of Light --- in this endeavour.

And, they proceed to build and shape four bodies out of the original one, e.g. physical body, vital body, mental body, ideal or causal body.

These are the four bowls that are made from one so that the sacrificer offers the delight of his existence, the Soma, for the Divinity in the full plenitude of it's fourfold formulation.

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    Thanks for the insightful answer. However I am looking for more prosaic details about their origins and actual work rather than the allegorical explanation. – Dr. Vineet Aggarwal Jan 23 '18 at 11:51

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