How does a Raag begin?

The Raag begins with an Alap. The idea in the Alap is to present the Raag in a nutshell but without the rhythm. In that sense the Alap is a quick sketch of what is to follow. The notes of the Raag may be sung in various forms, e.g., in the form of a prayer to God or in “Akar” which is the long “A” sound or with a small set of words such as “Ri Ta Tana”. Mewati vocalists typically sing Alap by invoking God through the phrase “Om Shri Anant Hari Narayan”.  After presenting the Alap, the vocalist starts singing the composition. That’s when the Tabla accompaniment starts.