Saṅgītaratnākara is a text on ‘saṅgīta’ by Śārṅgadēva written around 1250-AD at Dēvagiri, present day Daulatabad, in the state of Maharashtra. The author's ancestors had migrated from Kashmir and associated themselves with the court of the Yādava Kings, Śārṅgadēva himself working as the Chief Accountant. Śārṅgadēva's grandfather was Bhāskara and father Sōḍhala, who both had been Āyurvēda practitioners and scholars. Śārṅgadēva too continued the family tradition but seems to have been the first to practice, study and write about the performing arts.
Saṅgīta is a theatrical presentation of an art form consisting of ‘gīta’ (the tonal form or music), ‘vādya’ (the syllabic form created by drums) and 'nṛtta' (the visual form created by the movement of the limbs of the body, namely, dance). Although the term ‘vādya’ signifies ‘musical instruments’ in general, as a constituent of ‘saṅgīta’, it denotes the ‘syllabic form’ created by the drum instruments (avanaddha-vādya). Consequently, the instruments in the classes 'tata' (stringed) and 'suṣira' (wind) that produce melodic strucutures, get subsumed under 'Gīta'. The actual performance of 'Saṅgīta' comes to be described only in the seventh and the last chapter of the work, namely, the Nartanādhyāya. It is a public performance of music, involving the singing of, primarily the Prabandha songs, preceded by dancing and that again preceded by drum playing. During the singing of Prabandha there is some dancing. Either the dancer will render the song or her assistant would.
The gīta-vādya-nṛtta forms that are described under the saṅgīta performance are –
a) Śuddha-paddhati b) Gauṇḍalī-vidhi or Dēśī-paddhati c) Pēraṇī-paddhati
In the Śuddha-paddhati, only the prabandha-s from the ‘Śuddha’ class are sung while in the Gauṇḍalī performance the Sālaga-sūḍa-s are sung. In the Gauṇḍalī-vidhi, the performance of Rāga-ālapti and Rūpaka-ālapti belonging to anibaddha forms, by the dancer, is also seen. Thus the saṅgīta-performance seems to have been a theatrical presentation of music with support from drumming and dancing. Music was the dominant limb.
Three types of Saṅgīta performance, the 'Śuddha-paddhati', 'Gauṇdalī-vidhī' (Gauṇḍalī-mode, named after the lady dancer clan) and 'Pēraṇī-paddhatī' (Pēraṇī, attractive male dancer format), representing a chronological order, have been described in the 'Nartana-adhyāya' (the seventh and the last chapter devoted to Dance) . The performance involves the playing of drum compositions, called the 'Vādya-prabandha', compositions for Membranophone instruments 'Huḍḍukka (aka Āvaja)', 'Dēśī-Paṭaha (aka Aḍḍāvaja)', 'Mardala' and 'Karaṭa'. Dance is performed at the commencement and at the end, and sometimes during the singing of Prabandha songs too. During the singing of Rāga-ālāpti and Rūpaka-ālapti there is no playing of drums or dancing.
Both Rāgālapti and Rūpakālapti represented that aspect of music which is today popularly referred to as 'Manōdharma' or Improvisation. Śārṅgadēva used the term 'Anibaddha', to refer to them, meaning not 'shaped'/'bound' or being shaped during performance. The term 'Nibaddha' denoted the Prabandha, already composed pieces. Śārṅgadēva also regarded Prabandha and the Ālapti forms as belonging to the class of 'Gāna', non-art or non-classical or popular music to put it in a simple way. This was in contrast to the class of 'Gāndharva' to which belonged Jāti songs. These terms are seen discussed by Abhinavagupta when he is contrasting the Dhruvā songs of the Nāṭya with the Saptarūpa or Gītaka songs.