This story is based on a poem by Nirala.
One day Devarishi Narada, the wandering sage went up to Vishnu and asked him who his favorite devotee was. Now as we all know, Narada is a great Vishnu bhakt. So strong is his devotion that he punctuates every sentence with the famous words, “Narayana, Narayana”. Narayana is one of the many names of Vishnu, as we all know.
Narada was sure that there was no one comparable with him when it came to devotion to Vishnu. So when Narada questioned Him, Vishnu replied thus,” There is a good farmer on earth to whom I am dearer than his very life, I choose him.”
Narada was shocked to hear this. His pride was broken and the words stung him. But he quickly regained his composure and said, “If that is so, I would like to test him.”
“By all means”, said Vishnu smiling kindly.
Narada arrived at the doorstep of the farmer’s hut. It was afternoon and the farmer had just come home. He stopped at the door, took the Lord’s name and went in. After eating and refreshing himself the farmer went back to the fields. He returned at dusk and again remembered the Lord before entering the house. Next morning the farmer prayed to the Lord before leaving for work.
Narada was keenly counting. He observed that the farmer took the Lord’s name only three times during the day – before going to the fields in the morning, before eating food in the afternoon and after returning from his field at dusk. So why did Vishnu call him his favorite devotee?
He was puzzled. On returning to the Heavens Narada asked Vishnu. Vishnu was expecting this.
He said, “Narada, before I answer you, I have some work that only you can do.” He handed him a bowl filled to the brim with oil and asked him to walk around the earth once without dropping any oil. “Not a single drop must fall, Narada”, Vishnu reminded him.
Narada went away to do as he was bid. Understandably he took a long time to finish the task.
“So how many times did you remember me while walking around the earth, “asked Vishnu, when Narada got back him “Not once,” replied Narada, with some hesitation. “I was so engrossed in doing the work you assigned to me, that I completely forgot to take your name.”
“Narada, the farmer’s work is also given by me to him. He has many responsibilities, and he fulfills them all but still remembers me.” Vishnu said.
Narada was ashamed, “That is true,” he said, with his head down.
Vishnu explained, “Those who remember me while doing their duties are dearer to me than those who set aside all work and chant my name day and night.”