Narada, the celestial bard prided himself on his devotion to Lord Narayan. He spent all day creating songs in His praise, and singing them lustily. He took The Word to the corners of the Three Worlds, and smilingly spread it everywhere, tunefully, rhythmically, cosmically.
One day, Narada was sitting at the Lotus Feet singing his latest poem, and he happened to open his eyes to look upon The Lord, and he saw Him smilingly shower a blessing. But, it was not for him, Narada, that the blessing was intended. Unperturbed, but curious, Narada bowed low, and asked “ O, Wise One! O Preserver from all evil, who is the lucky mortal You bless at this moment?”
The Lord smiled. “I have just blessed my greatest devotee of all time!”
Narada was astonished! Who was this mortal? He tried to go back to his singing, but the words stuck in his throat, and the tune fell flat. He wondered, who could be a greater devotee than himself? Was he not a mortal, who through his devotion had gained immortality? Had he not been given the boon of the ability to go anywhere in the Three Worlds, chanting The Lord’s name in prayer? Did he not own the rights to sing His name through all eternity? Then who was this.. this usurper?
“My Lord, please! Please tell me who this person is? I would love to learn at his feet, so that I can become your greatest devotee! That is all I live for!”
His smile broadening, the Lord replied “Certainly!” He then furnished Narada with the name and direction of an obscure farmer in an insignificant village living in anonymity.
Grumbling under his breath, at the audacity of a mere village non-entity, stealing his title of the greatest devotee, Narada made haste and appeared in the village within moments. He followed the man indicated to him from dawn to dusk. He made sure not to miss a moment of his day, and as he followed this farmer about his daily duties, Narada felt a bewildered anger rising within him. After a whole day and night of dogging each footstep of this so called devotee Narada’s astonishment knew no bounds. He whooshed himself back to the Ever Benign Presence.
Folding his hands and bowing till his nose touched the ground, Narada tearfully asked the Lord, ”O Eternal One, please explain! This farmer arises in the morning, and even before he has performed his ablutions, he raises his hands in prayer and recites Your Name twice. He then rushes off, without bothering to perform any ritual whatsoever, and as soon as he has eaten something, off he rushes to his farm. At the end of the day, he comes home, eats a little, asks after his children and wife, and as soon he has recited Your Name twice, he drops off to sleep.”
“Yes, “ said the Lord, sighing happily.
“But!!!!….” Narada fell to the ground weeping. “What about me, I spend all day singing your praises! I never do anything but glorify your name to all the Three Worlds! How can this.. this .. measly little…. be your greatest devotee?”
The Lord chuckled, and said, “Son, please do me a favour, and I will answer your question. Please take this bowl of oil and deliver it to my good friend Lord Brahma. When you get back from your chore I will answer your question.”
Scrambling up, Narada saw that he was being handed a small brass bowl filled to the brim with oil.
“Mind! You need to go as fast as you can. It is awaited. Please make sure that you do not spill even a tiny drop, that will be a massacre”
Carefully accepting the bowl, Narada started to turn. The little bowl was so full, even the tiniest movement caused the oil to start spilling over.
“Take care, do not spill a single drop!”….
The Lord’s warning ringing in his ear, Narada carefully went to Brahma. Each step was excruciating, even a deep breath endangered the mission. Narada could not take his eyes off the tiny bowl of oil in his hands. His whole world became consumed with the swaying, swelling, almost overflowing bowl of oil. Sweat dripped from his brow, his heart pounded and each muscle quivered, but his eyes never wavered and the bowl remained steady. At his destination, Narada, trembling in his heart and feet, but steady in his arms and hands, passed the bowl to Brahma, and gasped, “I did not let a single drop spill!”
Accepting the bowl, Brahma gave Narada his blessing.
Tired but triumphant, Narada raced back to Narayan on winged feet.
“I did it, O Lord! I did it!”
Smiling and exhausted, he flung himself at His feet, and gasped, “Please, my Lord, please explain!”
The Lord Narayan, looked benignly down at the excited bard. Quietly, He asked, “How many times during the time that you had the bowl in your hand, and since, have you recited my name, O beloved?”
As Narada’s eyes widened and head bowed with understanding, the Lord smiled, leaned back, and shut His Lotus Eyes.