How does the vocalist unfold a Raag?

Singing a Raag is like telling a story. Obviously there are the lyrics to the composition which the vocalist sings. But above and beyond that, the vocalist weaves a story with the help of the Swars and the rhythm. Just as in an elaborate story the author establishes certain characters or the main roles e.g., the hero or the heroine and secondary or supporting characters, the vocalist establishes certain Swars in the presentation of a Raag. Supporting Swars are not established as prominently as the main or the “leading” Swars.

Just as a story teller starts with the phrase “Once upon a time ….” the vocalist starts with the base note or “Sa” and then gradually ascends to higher Swars. The development of a Raag is gradual. Each note is carefully brought forward and established. Alternatively, the vocalist presents clusters of notes, starting from the lower end of the octave of Swars and then going up the octave with clusers of notes.

During the gradual development or the Vistar of the Raag, the Swars are longer in duration. After the Vistar is complete, the composition is sung with a faster tempo and the duration for which a Swar is sung would be much shorter.  

As said earlier, a Raag is comparable to a story or a speech. Depending upon the topic of the speech certain thoughts or phrases fit well within the speech. For example, in a speech about the life of Mahatma Gandhiji, phrases as “Freedom Movement” or “Satyagraha Movement” are bound to appear. Similarly, depending upon the Raag certain sequences or clusters of notes are bound to appear. So no matter what the lyrics of the composition are, those combinations of Swars can be used to identify a Raag clearly.