Hi Neal; Two choices. Since there is a match between the Indian bilaval thaat and our major note scale, first rag that would come the easist is the Rag Bilaval. But for pure beauty, I recommend Rag Yaman (or alternately Yaman Kalyan). That rag is both very popular and very common, and is pleasing to the ear.
Bhupali is fine to start with too. Rag Bilaval is hard to find as a stand alone. The only source I have is in my manuals on sitar technique, posted elsewhere in these boards. Its a very common beginning exercise. I don't have Yaman Kalyan on CDs, only on old original albums I have from the sixties (what can I say?). Nice version on Aashih Khan's "Young Master of the Sarod", circa 1968. But if you have the time, you might do a keyword search over the net using Bilaval and Yaman Kalyan. Good luck.
Hi Neil Bilaval, which uses the scale we know as the western major scale, and Yaman, which is the same except for the 4th (Ma) which is sharpened (Tivra), are indeed good starting points. My teacher (all one lesson of him!) sent me back to practice on Yaman. As for recordings, like Russ I've not seen a 'pure' Raga Bilaval recording, but I have Ravi Shankar on CD playing Alahya Bilaval which sounds just like Bilaval to me. Others may know the precise differences. It's on a CD called 'Master of Sitar' on the Nascente label. The only Yaman recording I have is by a sitarist called Prasanna who I know nothing about. He plays it on a CD called Live at Lotus which also includes Rageshree, another nice 'basic' raga to have. Hope this helps. Good luck.
I feel that Ravi shankar's version of MADHUVANTI on the Ravi Shankar/In concert world pacific record -1421 to be very easy to learn. if you have a turn table, or can find it some where ,then it may help.......peace