Adi Sankaracharya was the greatest among the Indian philosophers. He is considered to be an incarnation of Lord Shiva. In the span of 32 years, he walked the length and breadth of our country Bharat to bring about an awareness in the minds of the people of the spiritual oneness underlying the diversity of this great subcontinent.
Sankaracharya established four mathas (monasteries) in four quarters of India to spread the Advaita philosophy. They are Sringeri in the south, Dwaraka in the west, Badri in the north and Puri in the east. Four prominent disciples of Adi Sankaracharya were the first heads of these Mathas. Totakacharya was the first head of Badri Matha.
Totakacharya was a young boy when he met Adi Sankaracharya. Then his name was Giri. As a student of Adi Sankara, Giri was very disciplined and hard working, but was not very bright. Daily he watched the beaming faces of the disciples when they grasped the teachings of the Master. Giri often felt that he was not blessed with the intelligence to follow and understand the lessons taught by Adi Sankaracharya. However with great faith and devotion, he continued his service to the Acharya cheerfully.
Once Giri was washing the Master’s clothes when Adi Sankaracharya sat down to begin his class. Since, Giri had not arrived, Sankaracharya was waiting for him to complete his daily chores. One of disciples asked the Master politely the reason for not starting the class, when the Acharya replied that Giri had not yet come. The other disciples exclaimed that it would not matter as Giri was not bright enough to understand the teachings. Adi Sankaracharya calmly replied that Giri ‘listens’ attentively.
At that moment Sankaracharya decided to bless Giri for his devoted service and hard work. He mentally bestowed Giri all the knowledge of the spiritual sciences and Vedas.
The student who was busy with his daily work, suddenly felt that he was completely soaked in the grace and blessings of his Guru. Collecting his clothes, he made his way straight to his Guru and prostrated at his feet. In that ecstatic moment, he sang a beautiful sanskrit poem in the totaka meter, in praise of Adi Sankaracharya. The disciples were astonished at the miraculous change and total transformation in Giri, and were surprised at the deep and profound meaning of the verses from one who could not even speak a sentence correctly in Sanskrit till a few moments ago. This poem came to be known as Totakashtakam. Thus a humble student Giri became Totakacharya, and became one among the four prominent disciples of Adi Sankaracharya.
True disciples have to meet their Master but once...the disciple's life pattern changes and in his own inner maturity, he climbs the heights within. - Swami Chinmayananda