A Raga is a melodic entity that covers a wide area of definition and musical expression, therefore going beyond being just a melody. A Raga has a name, basic characteristic sentiment, mood, well defined ascending and descending orders, principal and secondary notes from the scale serving as nerve-centers for detailed elaboration, and several other principles and features. We could perhaps say that there is melody in Raga, but Raga is not just a melody. Ragas are performed or practiced at specified times of the day or seasons of the year, reflecting the nature outside as well as the state of the human mind caused by the environment. It is a living musical being, which in the hands of an able master brings to life every single note and depicts its actual personality.
The choice of the Raga is often decided by the artist minutes or hours before an actual performance depending on the state of his mind, the environment, the ambience of the venue, the gathering of listeners and so on.
However, the Raga presentation begins with Alaap-Jor-Jhala, a movement where there is no other accompaniment except the tonic drone provided by the 4, 5 or 6 stringed Tanpura (Tamboura). Here, the artist gets into deep involvement with every note of the Raga and attempts to awaken the mood and the spirit of the Raga. In course, the performer and listener both go into a deep inward journey, get enveloped by the Raga and are able to perceive the introvert nature of the Raga through this long meditative passage.
The next movement is when Tabla accompaniment sets in to give company to the main melodic instrument. Here, the pre-composed melodic theme line works as the home-page for further musical explorations by both performers, all spontaneous and improvisational, though very progressional and systematic, yet with an ample measure of aesthetics. The composition, set to a rhythmic cycle of fixed number of beats called Tala, the basic mnemonics which are played on the Tabla, is generally at a slow leisurely pace with gradual building up of kaleidoscopic music expressions and increasing tempo and excitement. There are exchanges of musical ideas from time to time between the two performers reeling out their own solo runs in response to one another.
Finally, a faster composition is taken up by the main artist with the theme line as a base for further explorations engaging virtuosity, speed and stamina and musical sports to sometimes even outwit one another accelerating gradually to a musical high before completion. These two movements are but stages of perceiving the extrovert and playful nature of the Raga.
Often and time-permitting, an artist switches either to a shorter rendition of another Raga, or a semi-classical and more liberal and relaxed presentation, or some springly folk melody or song.