Vishnumoorthy is the most popular of the Vaishnava (of Lord Vishnu) Theyyams. The Vishnumoorthy Theyyam performance includes some complicated rites and rituals. The drum-beats are loud and peculiar. They can be heard up to a distance of 2 kilometers from the Kavu where the performance takes place. Theyyam is a ritual art form performed in North Kerala. You can read more about Theyyam here. You may also want to read about the most popular Theyyams.
This Theyyam tells the story of the Narasimha Avatar of Vishnu. The body movements of the performer are very interesting and keep the devotees enthralled. In Payyannur and surrounding areas, Vishnumoorthy Theyyam Ottakkolam (meaning only one Theyyam) is very famous. The Ottakolam Theyyam performance requires the performer to enter a pyre and return. This is called Agnipravesam. This act is repeated several times.
The legend of Vishnumoorthy
Vishnumoorthy is the deified form of Palanthai Kannan. Kannan was a great devotee of Lord Vishnu. He belonged to a lower caste and lived in Nileshwar. One day, while herding cattle the boy became too hungry and picked mangoes from a tree owned by Kuruvat Nair. Nairs are an upper caste Hindu community. Now caste based discriminations have almost disappeared from the Kerala society, but they used to exist in the past. Kuruvat Nair took offence at this. His bodyguards beat the boy and drove him from Nileshwar. Palanthai Kannan went to Mangalore and took shelter in a Vishnu temple there. He was a staunch devotee of Vishnu and spent six years in this temple. After that he returned to Nileshwar.
On the way, Palanthai Kannan took a bath in a large pond. Lower caste men or women were not allowed to take bath in this pond. When Kuruvat Nair heard that Kannan had returned and that he had taken a bath in this pond, he became furious. He and his men rushed to the pond and killed the boy. Lord Vishnu who accompanied this boy was enraged by this act and destroyed the Kuruvat tharavad. To appease the lord, they built a Kavu (temple) and created the Vishnumoorthy Theyyam. Vishnumoorthy resides in the Vaikundeswara Temple at Kottappuram, Nileshwar.
Vishnumoorthy Theyyam tells the story of the demon king Hiranyakashyap, his pious son Prahlad and Narasimhamoorthy (an Avatar) of Vishnu. Prahlad represents Kannan and Hiranyakashyap represents Kuruvatu Moothakuruppu. You can read the story of Prahlad and Hiranyakashyap here.